Everyday challenges: other people

Every year I tell myself that I will use my annual leave from work at regular intervals throughout the year. Unless I’ve booked a ‘big’ holiday, every year I get to about May and realise I actually haven’t booked much / any time off. So I’m taking a week’s leave at the moment.

I hadn’t realised when I booked it that this was going to be quite this hot. I don’t handle the heat (or cold) well, and there aren’t that many places with air conditioning or proper shade. I’ve been to many countries that are far hotter than the UK and been absolutely fine – but the infrastructure is set up for heat, which it isn’t here.

In the heat, my tolerance for things that I find difficult, overwhelming or stressful is greatly reduced. Which isn’t great when I’m trying to have an enjoyable day out.

I never quite know how to describe how I interact with other people. Over the years, I’ve developed a good sense of what the appropriate social rules are in different situations. When I am able to follow those rules, interaction with other people is easy and – in most cases – enjoyable. I find new situations can be stressful, until I work out what the rules are, but that happens less frequently; my mental database in respect of appropriate social rules has become quite extensive.

But of course, I can’t control other people.

And when other people don’t abide by the appropriate social rules, I don’t know how to respond and I don’t know what to do.

That happened a bit today.

I was spending the day at Hever Castle, which is somewhere I’ve been meaning to go to for a while. I’d done my research: I know it tends to be busy weekends and school holidays, so I’d deliberately avoided those times, as I know I don’t cope well with crowds.

It almost worked. Except there were quite a few school trips there today. And one school, in particular, made the visit less enjoyable for me.

They were young children, 5 or 6 years old. I accept that young, excited children can get a bit noisy. That’s fine, and that’s one of the reasons why I always have headphones with me. But there was one child, when I was queuing to get it, that just kept screaming. The headphones didn’t block the screaming out, even with my music turned up as loudly as possible. That would have been bad enough – screaming is one of the noises I find difficult to tolerate from a sensory perspective – but the social rules also broke down. My expectation was that one of the adults would try and manage the situation more; to ask the child to stop screaming; to try and remove the child from the main group of people until they had calmed down. None of that happened. The adults seemed oblivious.

I almost couldn’t buy the ticket because I was so overwhelmed. And as soon as I got in, I had to find a quiet spot to desensitise – not exactly the start I wanted to the day.

That has all happened before – people have generally got louder and more oblivious to their auditory impact on others – and at least I have strategies to deal with that.

What happened later in the day was not so good.

I was waiting to go into the castle itself, and some children from the same school trip were in the courtyard. One of them picked up a piece of gravel / small stone and, looking directly at me, threw the stone at me, hitting my arm and causing a slight cut (luckily I carry plasters; I tend to faint at the sight of blood). I said to the accompanying adult that I didn’t appreciate a stone being thrown at me, and he just said that it was only a small stone(!). Again, no attempt was made to tell the child not to throw things, or to remove the child from the situation. And no apology was given for the child’s behaviour.

It was only a small cut – but I process these things differently, so it hurt! It also forced me into engaging with other people, when I didn’t really want to – and then instead of the expected apology, I was effectively told not to make a fuss. That’s not in my social rules database!

It was one school, and perhaps the teachers / helpers are particularly oblivious or entitled (I fully appreciate that children that age may not be fully in control of what they do – which is why I would have expected the adults to intervene, as they would have done when I was that age.). But this seems to be happening more and more often. So I don’t know whether I need to recalibrate my social rules (do I really just need to accept a strange person throwing something at me?), or whether I just need to avoid people, or whether I need to find an adults-only venue (and if anyone knows one, please let me know – everything around here seems to pride themselves on being family-friendly), or whether there’s another solution entirely.

I know that sometimes my own behaviour has an impact on others. I try to minimise that where possible, and I do what I can to manage my condition; to mitigate its impact on other people. I just wish other people would show me the same consideration.

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