In this week’s blog, Jennifer Rose talks about going to Dorney Park, an amusement park, with some friends. She hilariously mentions the problems she encountered at the park, and how she overcame them. Jennifer’s comedic narrative reminds all of us not to take life too seriously, and to be flexible with plans. She also writes how her autism affects her daily life, like in the changing of seasons; while writing about this, Jennifer reflects on her strengths and weaknesses in coping with sudden changes.
Last Saturday, I went to Dorney Park as an end-of-summer trip with my friends at the College of St. Elizabeth. I was so excited to go on all the fun rides! However, as someone with autism spectrum disorder, for me, excitement and anxiety more often than not go together like Mary Kate and Ashley. Several factors stirred up the latter for me.
For starters, it’s difficult for me to handle over-stimulation. While I have fun memories of going to amusements parks with my summer camp and youth group in the past, I still feel overwhelmed when I first get to the park itself, even if I’m fine the rest of the trip. Moreover, since I had turned 22 the previous month, I had wanted to film a spoof of Taylor Swift’s “22” with a friend whom I recruited a few days beforehand. I thought that not only would it be fun to make and produce, but it would also be great publicity for the park itself. However, numerous obstacles got in the way.
To begin with, several props that I had needed were unavailable – for example, I had tried to buy a hat at the gift shop resembling the one that Taylor Swift used in her video, but I had left my wallet on the bus ride getting to the park. I also couldn’t jump into a pool at the very end of the video like she does. While there was a pool at the park, there was a gate fencing it in. The people at the park would be too disturbed by my jumping into the pool to start clapping and cheering, as there would have been no way for me to get out of the pool. And frankly, I wasn’t too interested in getting arrested that day, especially since my parents were picking me up that evening. To top it all off, the park was blaring loud songs from when I was a kid – not exactly practical for filming a YouTube music video. Eventually, I changed my mind about filming the video at the park and just decided to let go and have fun.
Thanks to the “buddy system” for the trip, I followed two other women around for the rest of the morning, and we went on rides together. Eventually, we decided to go to a 50’s-style diner to eat, and I got some gluten-free wings and salad (healthy eating for a theme park). Since I was finished eating before both women were, I decided to leave the restaurant to go on more rides myself. However, I failed to find my ‘buddies” again, so I had to call the lady in charge of the trip. After a while, I met up with the other girls on the trip on a park bench.
One interesting thing about my experience in the amusement park itself was that I was less scared when I got on more intense rides such as the “Wild Mouse” (a mini-coaster where a cat chases a rat through a series of twists and turns, and flies pretty high in the sky). Of course, I’d been on this ride at Dorney Park several times beforehand, so I was more used to it. Another factor was that my anxiety levels had decreased, which may have been why I used to be so terrified of roller coasters – I was all too aware of the danger involved. Granted, you still couldn’t persuade me to get on rides like “Superman,” but I feel more comfortable on other intense rides than I was, say, during trips at camp 10 years beforehand. And to top it off, I had gotten so little stimulation in the month prior to the trip that I not only wanted, but needed, excitement in my life.
People on the spectrum tend to have elevated anxiety levels, which is why they’re more emotionally vulnerable to meltdowns than their neurotypical counterparts, but this isn’t a guarantee. For example, one of my friends from high school, Kurt (names have been changed to protect the super-edgy) was on the autism spectrum and not only was not scared of rollercoasters, but LOVED them. In fact, he was the main reason I went to amusement parks a lot during my adolescence.
That’s my experience going to an amusement park as someone on the autism spectrum. For someone with autism, even an experience as trivial as going to an amusement park can be different. Moreover, seasons changing is a rather unnerving feeling for me, albeit less so than in the past. So while I was sad that summer was ending, I handled it more or less like a neurotypical person would.
About the Author
Jennifer Rose a student at the College of St. Elizabeth, majoring in English. Jennifer published a book, It’s Not A Perfect World But I’ll Take It: 50 Life Lessons for Teens Like Me Who Are Sort of (You Know) Autistic (Skyhorse Publishing), and is working on a play. Despite her struggles, like her difficulty with organization, Jennifer has worked extremely hard to get where she is today. As a self-advocate, she wants to support other people on the spectrum, and show them what they can achieve with the right support system. You can follow her on twitter here.