We have been musing and ruminating on why some aspects of our life have got harder over the years. After all, it is not like the pre/post autism diagnosis us are different beings pivoting on that external validation. We haven’t suddenly gone, “Oh, we are autistic, we should now find X difficult”. Certainly, there is plenty that we have always found difficult or tiring, that we can subsequently frame in the language of autism to help explain and understand. So we might now talk about how we process sense data, what our sensory profile is, and how we can use that to make life a little less tiring. But, and here’s the rub, despite this better self-awareness, some stuff is getting harder as the years go by. Given the fact that we are not getting more autistic as we get older, the puzzle has been why is this the case.
Driving seems to be something of a clue. Perhaps, the start of a thread we can pull at to unravel the mess of complicated interrelated factors and reveal a glimpse at the pattern.
We have never liked driving. Vehicles, fixing them, tweaking and modifying them. Well those things have an appeal, even under pressure. The delight of fixing a blown out spark plug with a tent peg, beer can and basic tools on a campsite for us in undeniable. But the actual driving, well that’s taxing. A means to an end. We have for years, kept it to a minimum. Walk where possible, commute by train, ride bikes and motorbikes1.
Recently, we have found ourselves having to be committed to driving a lot. Some of that is a function of our rural location, but it has been exacerbated by commitments we need to make, and we are the sole driver for our household. Which means, it is so very often unavoidable.
We have finally, progressed to a truck that by our standards is positively new. It will go anywhere, and is pretty bombproof. So we have removed the stress of, will the car start, or might we break down. Which is great. But yet, still a lot of the driving is more taxing, despite removing some of that anxiety.
We noticed over this winter, it is the night driving that is what really does for us. Which when you have very short daylight hours, means many journeys fall into this category.
Lights for us have always been problematic. We prefer natural light or darkness, and that hasn’t changed. So why does night driving get to us now?
We realised that we hadn’t changed, our sensitivity had essentially been stable. But the nature of lighting has changed quite a lot. Vehicle and bike lights are now both brighter and more intense. Their colours have changed, the amount of actual light and their directionality/focus have all been changing as older vehicles are replaced. (Some even move to point at you as they turn.) Combine that with LED street lighting, then add LED displays on signage, and top that with seasonal Christmas lighting and you have a recipe for completely overloading us.
Some of this is that as LED lights cut energy consumption and are safer, they are being used more. Therefore, not only has the nature and intensity of individual lights increased, but also the sheer quantity.
Sitting in the truck behind a bus for example, and the red rear lights of the bus are super bright. Not only that, it’s not a pair of lights. Each light is a cluster of bright red LEDs, every one an intense pinprick. From these very direct and intense lights there is no escape. It’s for us a bit like following a car which has forgot to turn off it’s rear fog light, except it’s most of the time now.
Some are better than others, with LEDs behind a diffuser, but mainly the trend it towards super narrow bands or spots of intense light. Headlights and daylight running lights are just as bad, with similar very harsh qualities that are extremely dazzling and distracting.
Add in rain and you have a cascading set of reflections that magnify this visual clutter by an order of magnitude.
Of course it’s not just driving, or LEDs or any small specific thing. Those do indicate a reason as to why things are getting harder in someways, but it is more an indicator of the march of technology.
For many years, we have said that we were born too late. For all the fact that we have a degree in computing, worked as a mechanic, we cannot help but feel we were born several thousand years too late. Some aspects of technology do bring benefits. They way we are writing and publishing here for example, connections, access to certain types of knowledge, tools and aids, all positives. Yet for all that, they indicate a flow of our environment and society further away from where we feel we would naturally fit. Why we take comfort in older ways and older places in this world.
So, we think that we probably have to resign ourselves to the fact that, some aspects of our life will just get harder. But awareness of this and what we can do to adapt and counter this, hopefully will help.
These are easier, in as much as much of what we get as feedback is through our other senses, and although lights are still overloading, we are not as dependent on visuals as heavily for our connection to the road environment. ↩︎