Soon my safe haven might be a shelter for everyone. (Photo by me.)
Most people know I’m a Mets fan. You can figure it out pretty quickly based on how I’m dressed, what I do every night at 7 pm (stare at SNY for three hours and cry), and the memorabilia scattered around my house.
What most people don’t know from looking at me at first glance is that I have Asperger’s syndrome.
Asperger’s is on the autism spectrum on the higher end; people with Asperger’s can lead normal lives, but tend to have issues with social skills and whatnot. I thrive in academia – I’m a historian and I’m training to be an archivist – but throw me into a room with lots of talkative people and it’s too much for me. I’m prone to sensory overload, so when I was at a concert with a good friend recently and it was only general admission, it was my worst nightmare. (I also ended up with a concussion, but let’s not go there for now.) If things are too loud, smell too strongly, have a certain texture, or are even too bright, it’ll be painful beyond belief for me. A loud family member of mine, my paternal grandmother, physically gives me headaches.
And I’m on the higher end of the spectrum. Imagine what it’s like for people lower on the scale.
I love baseball to bits and pieces. I’ve been going to games my entire life and I’ve been raised to treat baseball as something sacred, almost like a religion, which I do. I’m at my happiest when I’m at the ballpark, even if it’s a little high school field somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. It’s a truly magical place for me, and it’s one of those rare times when I can go out in public and feel entirely safe and not judged by everyone around me. I feel different a lot of the time, and I still have this sinking feeling from my childhood that people are judging me, but at the ballpark that all disappears for me because we’re all united in the same spirit – the passion for baseball. Nobody thinks I’m crazy there. I fit in.
Sometimes, though, even there the crowds and noises and smells can be overwhelming for me, and if I’m separated from the people I’m with it can make me somewhat nervous until I find them again. It’s easier once the game has started and less people are on the concourses, but prior to that everyone’s bustling about and there’s so much chaos that it’s easy to be overcome by it all.
My childhood team is about to make it all easier, though: they’re considering adding quiet seating at Citi Field to allow families affected by autism to come to the ballpark and not be entirely overwhelmed. This is actually really exciting to me because although I’m able to handle sitting in regular seating with the crowds, other people further down on the spectrum might not, so now they, too, can enjoy the game that’s been such an intrinsic part of my life for all of these years. The more I think about it, the more I realize this can help people not just with autism spectrum disorders, but with other conditions, as well – epileptics might find this seating safer, for one. People with service animals who need quieter areas to sit can come here, as well, as the animals might find it less overwhelming, too. This opens up a whole new realm to people who want to attend a ballgame but for various medical reasons just aren’t able to.
Sometimes I get uncomfortable about being catered to – in fact, I generally don’t like it, as it can come across as insulting. When I tell people I have Asperger’s, I either hear, “Really? You don’t even seem like you’re autistic!” or “Oh my God, your life must be so hard and terrible.” Autism spectrum disorders carry a certain stigma with them these days (which is why I get angry at Autism Speaks – and the internet – but that’s an issue for another time). At first, when I heard that Citi Field was considering this seating, I was concerned that they were condescending to people like me, but then I thought about it a bit more and I realized something. Buildings have been handicap-accessible for decades now. There are sections in most structures for smokers and non-smokers. There are signs up on the sides of roads to protect blind and deaf children from being struck by motorists. This really isn’t much different than all of that, to be honest. It’s just adding accessibility to a group of people who previously didn’t have much of it.
And that’s fine with me, especially if it means that maybe I’ll have some more people to recite stats back and forth with to disturb the general public with how much we remember.
(Steph writes about having Asperger’s at her blog, Asperger’s Illustrated. Go check it out if you’re interested in learning more about living with an autism spectrum disorder and follow her on Twitter at @1863_project.)