5 Summer Hacks For Autistic Folks

Summer is here! The exclamation point is less about excitement and more about alarm. Don’t get me wrong, there are good things about summer, like smores and fresh berries and corn on the cob (how have I never noticed that my favorite parts of summer are food?) But at least to me, the downsides of summer outweigh the good stuff.

I’ve spent 30 summers on this earth so far, and I like to think that I’ve learned some things, especially when it comes to sensory stuff. So here it comes, the worst parts about summer and how to deal with it.

1. Sun Safety- There is a video of me dating back to about 1988 that I will never live down. I’m about 18 months old, I’m at the beach, and I’m refusing to let my mom put sunscreen on me. This is slightly funny at best until you picture a tiny Meesh rolling back and forth across the room attempting to escape the sunblock.  Luckily it is no longer 1988, and there are many more sun safety options.

As an adult, I still find sunblock on my skin to be sensory hell. I have found, however, that the spray on versions are way more tolerable. These work for me because I’m biracial and don’t burn, however, this may not be the best option for people with lighter skin. This year though I found Solar Buddies. You can fill it with your favorite sunblock, and it has a foam applicator and a roller ball for a thin but protective layer. And if sunblock is a total no-go, a good hat and a light coverup can do a lot.

2. Staying cool-  I live in Missouri, and that might not mean anything to you yet, but I have 2 words for you: 80% humidity. It is hard to keep cool for your average person, but autistic people like me need to work even harder at it. I can overheat in about 10 minutes, which is unacceptable to me when there’s so much cool stuff to do. I refuse to miss out on festivals and concerts and roller coasters just because I can’t figure out how to stay cool. My two staple things to beat the heat are fans with water misters and chill bandanas. They both involve small amounts of water, but it’s never been enough to bother me (and I’m the ruler of hates getting wet). Bringing a large umbrella for the worst of the sun work well too. Plus they come in cool prints!

3. The Pool- Ask any kid what the best part of summer is and they’ll tell you that it’s the pool! Even as a child I was confused by this. It’s not that I hated swimming, I was on the swim team for years, but what I did hate was chlorine stinging my eyes, water getting stuck in my ear, and the way the pool felt all rough on my feet. I still hate those things, but I feel like I’m better able to tolerate them now with the tools I have. Here they are- goggles (I think these seal the best), pool socks, and swimmer’s earplugs. If you really want minimal getting wet, more and more pools are putting in splash pads too. I still don’t like getting wet, but sometimes it’s necessary.

4. Clothing- I am bad at going from season to season when it comes to clothes. So bad in fact, that it was cited in the documents about my autism diagnosis. It’s just so stressful! It’s hard to tell when it’s time to switch from pants to shorts, or from tank tops to hoodies. It also doesn’t help that sometimes wearing a t-shirt is okay, except that it gets soaked at the first drop of sweat.

So here are my rules for dressing during the summer. Rule 1, try to stick to light colored clothes if you’re going to be outside a lot. It’s a little thing that really helps. I also have super lightweight vests if I need layers. Rule 2 is all about athletic wear. The moisture wicking is amazing, so it helps keep you cool, plus it keeps the gross sweatiness at bay. Lastly, rule 3 is natural fibers whenever possible. Polyester doesn’t breath the way that cotton, linen, or hemp does.

5. Hygiene- Do you know what comes along with the summer heat? Sweat. And sweat makes everything feel…honestly? gross is the best way I (a Writing Major) can describe it. The balance is so hard because there are two opposite forces pulling at you. One says that the sweat is making your skin prickle and you clothes clammy, and the other says that the last thing I want to do when I’m already hot and uncomfortable is to get in a hot shower and get my hair and my body wet, and risk getting water and soap in my eyes. Did I mention that I hate being wet? So here’s what I’ve got for you. Deodorant wipes are about the best thing ever. I like these Pacifica ones. But they make scentless ones and individual wrapped ones. Anything you could possibly want from a wipe. I also like Lush’s anti-chafing powder, mostly because you can put it anywhere you get sweaty and it will absorb the sweat and make things smooth.

So there are my summer tips in a nutshell. Summer officially starts after the 21st of June, so we’re just in time! If any of you have summer tips I will gladly take them! I’m already counting down until the coolness of Fall rolls in.

5 Reasons I Love Musical Theatre

It’s summer in St. Louis, or at least the 95 degree temperatures make it feel that way, and summer here means lots of cool outdoor events. One of my favorites is seeing shows at The St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre, otherwise known as The MUNY. They put on shows all summer, a new show every week, and if you’re willing to sit in the nosebleed seats, it’s even free!

This year the lineup is Jerome Robbinns’ Broadway, The Wiz, Singin’ in the Rain, Jersey Boys, Annie, Gypsy, and Meet Me in St. Louis- not a bad lineup!

We saw our first show of the season yesterday, and it reminded me how much I love live shows. So here are all the things that my autistic heart loves about musical theatre

  1. It’s Sensory Friendly: At least when it comes to performances. I don’t know about you, but I need earplugs to make it through movie theatre previews most days. (in fact, the preview for the movie Dunkirk was so painfully loud, I swore off movies until it was out of theatres). Concerts are also loud, although they can be loud in a good way, and often have lighting effects that make me kind of nauseous. Live theatre is great because it’s not prohibitively loud, unnecessarily bright, and more and more often sensory-friendly shows are being offered! The only negative sensory thing I experience is having to sit still for a couple of hours- and I can’t really complain about that.
  2. Orchestral Music Gives Me Goosebumps: For most of my life, I was unaware that not everyone gets intense goosebumps and tingles when they listen to classical music. And I was astounded. I couldn’t imagine an existence where Vivaldi didn’t send chills up and down my spine, or where the score from Jurassic Park didn’t give me full body tingles. I always thought when people said that a piece “moved them to tears”, they were describing how. damn. good. music makes their body feel. For me, this sensation is the best type of body stim, and musicals are basically just 2 hours of stimmy bliss.
  3. The Themes are Universal: Relating to people can be tough. Sometimes when I’m in social situations, I find myself just smiling and nodding along- mostly because I’m either confused about other people’s experiences, or I just can’t relate. Real life is hard, but musicals are easy. They are about human things that everyone has felt before. Feeling oppressed? Les Mis. Feeling Misunderstood? Wicked. Family Troubles? Lion King. Mental Health Issues? Dear Evan Hanson. Cats? Cats! Sometimes it’s really just to just sit back and relax- without having to interpret the world.
  4. The Characters Literally Sing Their Feelings at You: That’s right, I said it. No figuring out facial expression or body language, no sorting out metaphors, and absolutely no dealing with the consequences of guessing wrong. I love knowing exactly what the characters are thinking and feeling because it lets me immerse myself into the story- something that doesn’t happen too often in real life. Can you imagine: you’re in a complicated situation, and you’re trying to figure out if you’ve said or done something wrong, and all of a sudden, the other person breaks into song? YOU DIDN’T VALIDATE MY FEELINGS EARLIER AND I FEEL LIKE YOU DON’T CAAAAAAAARE! It would certainly make life more interesting!
  5. All the Feels: Sometimes I have trouble identifying my emotions. Am I upset? Am I overwhelmed? Am I sad? And I know for me, not knowing how I’m feeling can lead to a build-up of emotions, and I will eventually explain. Figuratively, of course. So, at regular intervals, I find that I just need a good cry. I don’t even have to be crying about my life and my problems- musicals let me cry about other people’s problems. Key examples include: Do You Hear the People Sing (Les Mis), Wait for It (Hamilton), For Good (Wicked), and Goodbye Love (Rent). There are many more. Seussical, which is a funny show based on the works of Dr. Seuss has a song that makes me cry. Maybe I’m too emotional, but at least I’ve got an outlet, right?

So there you go! Now that you know how I’ll be spending my summer nights, I think it’s only fair that I know about your plans. Tell me what you’re looking forward to doing this summer, even if it’s just staying at home and enjoying your air conditioner!