I choose to avoid public transport at all costs. Buses, trains, planes, taxis, trams… you name it, given the choice, I will not use it.
Reasons I do not use public transport:
1.) The seats are usually patterned and this hurts my eyes.
2.) The smell is often nauseousating.
3.) You have to sit next to people you don’t know and they may talk to you.
4.) The timetables are complicated and hard to understand.
5.) Overwhelming noise is created by others.
I have been on a bus once and never will again. The driver was very rude to me when I asked where the bus was heading. I wanted to check I was boarding the correct coach as the timetable was very hard for me to understand. The driver responded in a harsh tone and this put me on edge from the get-go. I went to sit down on an available seat – the seat smelt and was covered in stains, making me feel nauseous. The person I sat next to kept nudging me with their arm as they fished around for items in their bag. It was a stressful experience and I was relieved when I reached my stop.
Trains are more bearable, although not pleasant. I have been on trains often and am able to use the National Rail app to break down and help me understand the timetables – I can then be confident that I am boarding the correct line.
Trains share the negatives listed above but, I have found if you board the furthest end carriage it will usually be quieter than the rest making it easier to cope with as a mode of transportation. The carriage can be quiet but the clacking of the wheels hitting the tracks will leave me with a headache on long journeys; I use my trusty headphones to drown this noise out.
How I feel about planes can vary. On one flight I may have a whole row of seats to myself on an adult-filled quiet plane – perfect. On the next flight I may be sat in the middle of two strangers who order food which omits a sickening smell and screaming children kicking the back of my seat. For the sake of a holiday I will take the risk and use this mode of transport.
I remember the first holiday I took with my boyfriend to Barcelona. We arrived at the airport to fly home and although sad to leave I was content as I knew the plan. I knew what time we would board, take-off and land.
When queuing to board the plane it was announced that our flight was delayed. From here, it was a downward spiral. I stayed calm and tried to breathe and talk myself through it. Forty-five minutes later, we boarded the plane. I was sat in the middle seat between my boyfriend and a stranger. The stranger ordered a glass of red wine – the vinegary smell burning into my nostrils. We sat waiting to take-off for another half an hour. The pilot announced over the speaker that we would be landing in England nearly two hours later than scheduled. We began to fly and a baby started crying… so did I. My boyfriend, although aware of my autism, assumed my tears were caused by a fear of flying. This wasn’t the reason, I was crying as the schedule had changed. After a weekend away from home in unfamiliar surroundings, with a delayed plane, a crying baby and the awful smell of wine all I wanted was to get into my own bed and hide from the world. As this wasn’t an option, instead, I cried the whole flight home and only felt the relief from the stress and anxiety when I woke up in my own bedroom the next morning. The unpredictability of public transport can be a huge disadvantage for people on the Spectrum.
Taxis are bearable if I am with others and can sit in the back – meaning I don’t have to engage in conversation. I will get a taxi on my own if absolutely necessary, but will not make conversation. If the driver initiates and holds the conversation then I will respond appropriately, although I would prefer not to. One thing I do hate about taxi’s is whomever I am with asking the driver, “so… have you been busy tonight?”. I CANNOT STAND THIS! It is such a pointless question and one which the driver must have already answered numerous times that night. Why ask a question if you do not care for the answer? (I am abiding by the, ‘stereotypical autistic attitude towards communication between neurotypicals’ with that last sentence… shame on me, how dare I share my true Aspie opinions! (also, check me out using sarcasm)).
The dreaded underground
My least favourite from of public transport has to be the London underground. One of my biggest fears is being underground. This accompanied by hundreds of people rushing through the stuffy, loud, smelly tunnels to get to the equally stuffy, loud, smelly tubes is an exhausting experience. The stress journeys on the underground cause me can often leave me feeling shaky and faint.
For any neurotypicals reading this you may be thinking, ‘gosh, this girl is a picky, fussy, opinionated person! How can she feel so strongly about the smells and noises found on public transport!?’.
You may not have noticed such smell or sounds. This is because your brains will not be wired the same as those on the Spectrum. For people on the Spectrum our senses are heightened. The smell of wine to you may be pleasant, but to me it is as if someone has coated the inside of my nose with a bottle of vinegar. You may not notice the sound of a planes engine or a trains wheels hitting the tracks but to me, and many others, the sounds are one of many which make public transport a stressful experience.
I understand public transport is used by many but, what needs to be addressed is that those on the Spectrum are part of that many. I feel strongly that one coach on a train or a section of a plane should be made Autism friendly. I hope in the future this will be the case, meaning autistic people will be able to travel – as most people do – confidently and stress-free.
Please watch this great video issued by the National Autistic Society. It demonstrates the struggles those on the Spectrum may experience on public transport: http://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/
“79% of autistic people told us they feel socially isolated as, for some, the fear of unexpected changes could mean not even leaving the house.
We want to change that. Sign our open letter https://t.co/uIpJDh6R04 “