Going to the park as a young boy I used to love the merry-go-round ride. There were a couple of different types. There was the one with the flat wooden floor and holding handles. There was the type that was a kind of pipe frame style that you sat on, or when brave lay on. I would spend hours on these. The slippery slides, the see saws, the swings and the sandpits just had nothing on the merry-go-round. It was just the best and most wonderful way to pass some time.
As I grew up some variants of this park equipment came into vogue, one was like a spherical shaped apparatus that you sat inside and spun turning a stationary metal circle. I remember in my early teens that some of the Mc Donald’s playgrounds even installed this fast spinning dizziness inducing park implements. They were seemingly not a success, as they didn’t last too long. I can imagine there was not too few occasions where children’s dinner or lunch ended up sprayed all over the playground.
As a teenager and a member of the local scout troop, it was always fun to arrive earlier than necessary as there was a playground at the top of the hill where the scout hall was. A few of us would arrive early and the feature of the playground was a grey metal tube style merry-go-round. A few 13-16 year old boys can get those things really spinning. I am sure it was never a long amount of time that we spent there but it was an experience that was always wonderful for me. I would position myself lying down on the outside edge. These merry-go-rounds had a double row of metal tubing forming the circle, which was conveniently wide enough to form a space to lay down on. It was exhilarating and strangely calming – for me anyway.
Our scout hall was on a fairly large suburban property, it was set a long way down the block and there was a path leading down from the road. Between the hall and the road was a flat grass oval around the size of a soccer pitch. Then some rough ground and the playground area with the merry-go-round in question. Several large gum trees grew around the playground. As one lay in down on the outer ring of the merry-go-round the light would flicker and waver as you looked up. It was an amazing experience to see this as you spun around very fast. It was quite wonderful.
Scouts was one of those things that was really difficult for me. I didn’t understand way back then, I didn’t know I was Âûtistic, I hadn’t even heard of it, it was even before Rainman. I loved the actual scouting part of it, the camping, the learning to tie knots and the earning of badges and all those kinds of things. The social interaction part was difficult, very difficult. Having to interact with forty other boys and men – and it was just boys and men back then, was really difficult. I was constantly finding myself left out, the last boy picked on a team, the recipient of pushes and shoves out of sight of the leaders and of course the constant nasty comments that were levelled were never easy to take.
But I loved it too. I loved the feeling of accomplishment of earning a badge, lashing poles together, getting fires going and cooking and fending for myself in the bush. I managed to cope with it. It was really hard work at times but I did manage to cope, and I think that grey metal merry-go-round had a dam significant part of that coping.
It’s not something I really thought about much. But one thing was for sure, my experiences on that spinning instrument were calm and enjoyable. The other boys I think tended to do it for the bravado whereas I really believe, with the benefit of hindsight that I did it to calm. One thing I remember clearly is that other boys would stumble around and occasionally have an experience of feeling very sick and occasionally even have a vomiting experience after riding the merry-go-round. Never was that an experience for me. It was an experience of joy and wonder, eyes closed or eyes open as the world spun around.
Reflecting further I realise that I did this much more often than just before the beginning of the weekly scouts. As I reflect I realise all the different things I did that involved this spinning and dizzying aspect. Enjoying tumbling, rolling down big grass hills, getting adults to spin me in the air holding my arms. I sought these experiences out. It seems this was in fact a stimm of choice even though I didn’t know it.
It is revelatory to me to reflect and realise and come to know some of these things I did in childhood that were innately autistic traits and behaviours that were somehow not knocked out of me by the intensely dictatorial parenting I received.
So whether or not an autistic person is aware they are autistic doesn’t actually change anything. You just can’t take the autism out of the autistic. No matter the therapy, the treatment, the poison the behaviour plan the protocol, it just can’t be done.
I say we stop trying. I say we start accepting. I say we start celebrating and including Âûtistics everywhere and in everyday we possibly can.