You couldn't possibly know what it's like to have autism or cerebral palsy or Down syndrome unless you are a person with autism or cerebral palsy or Down syndrome. But maybe if people had some sense of what it's like, they might have a better understanding of people with disabilities. That's the idea behind the Autism Reality Experience (ARE). For the last couple of years, the mobile van offering the virtual experience has traveled around England and Canada, and it's making a visit to the United States in March.
The ARE was created with input from people with autism. Families and professionals alike have been trying the experience, which includes a sense of what the sensory processing challenges people with autism feel like. Participants wear gloves and headphones, watch a video with noises as lights flash and then perform a series of tasks. There is a three-hour program option that explores people's reactions to the experience and how senses can be affected by autism and offers anxiety reduction techniques for autism and behavior management techniques.
I'd hope that anyone trying the experience is made to understand that no two people with autism are alike, and that the stimulation of sensory overload isn't the exact reality of how people with autism experience it. Still, there is a real lack of understanding out there of why people with autism and other disabilities behave the way they do, and hopefully it will open minds.
The Autism Reality Experience will be doing a three-day tour March first through March 3 at ReClif, a fitness-based therapy and community center for people with autism (here's more info).