Thursday, 8 September 2016

Autism and Lighting in Buildings

The photo above shows a prison hallway.  Could be any prison, anywhere.  This is how I see it, as someone who is autistic, with visual processing difficulties when anxious.

It doesn't show the intense flickering effect, like a strobe light.   That's fluorescent lighting.  It's nearly everywhere.
It's in schools, hospitals, surgeries, colleges, workplaces, faith centre halls, DWP centres.   Almost any time we are asked to go into a large building, we're faced with this, people like me.

It makes me feel nauseous.  It's disorientating.  Sooner or later, I lose the ability to speak.  I'm desperate to get away from that lighting and its effects.  This is without any other sensory difficulties such as odour, echoing noise, etc.  Some on the autism spectrum will enter a kind of 'epileptic event' if under flickering lighting for too long.  It will look like a temper tantrum, but it isn't.  It's not under the person's control.

Sometimes, the places we need to be the most calming, the least likely to cause difficulties...those are the ones that are the hardest to endure. The most likely to result in people trying to escape, or not understanding instructions.  Appearing to be unco-operative.  Appearing to be disrespectful.  Appearing to be 'kicking off' for no reason.

So easy to sort out.   Fluorescent lighting can be replaced, like-for-like, with LED lighting.  As long as that's not on a dimmer switch, there's rarely any flickering.  Then, use of sunglasses, tinted prescription glasses or baseball caps etc can cut down glare.  That's one less thing to cause difficulties.   LED lighting is cost effective to run, too.

Try to hold important meetings with people in a space with natural daylight.  North facing rooms have the best light quality for this, away from direct intense sunlight.  Somewhere as quiet as possible.  Away from really strong smells, too, where you can.  Think about your own smell; have you doused yourself in aftershave?

Remember when meeting autistic people to give good advance info about what the meeting is about.
Keep to time, or let the person know there is a delay and give a new timing.
Give an end time, so they know how much conversation to prepare for.  Keep to this too.
Don't do eye contact with us. It's respectful of our needs to let us choose where to look, as eye contact is physically painful for us.
Don't read body language; ours doesn't work, so you'll just end up confused or misled.
Give time for answers.  Maybe review answers later on.  Answers in a stressful moment may be 'automated answers', not actual answers. Not lies, just desperation to get away from the scary questions.

People working in buildings with low echoing and better lighting all benefit.  Not just the probably-one-in-30-people on the autism spectrum, who may have sensory/light sensitivity/pain difficulties.

Find out more from a good autistic buildings access person.  Autism Oxford UK provide this kind of service, for example.

(PS...when you saw the picture of the prison, at the top, what was your thought about who is autistic?  The prisoner?  Autism is nothing to do with a greater tendency to criminal behaviour.  Most autistic people are extremely law abiding.  Most people in prisons are not prisoners.  They are guards, admin people, physiotherapists, Chaplains, contractors, visitors, medics.  Anyone, anyone at all, could be autistic.   1 in 30* of anyone at all.)

*Yes, the official statistic is 1 in 100.  That's a very old statistic, based on figures before we understood autism often presents very differently in women and in many of those with a 'normal IQ'.