Het Hoofdkwartier- An Autism Exposition

Saturday we had a wonderful family day. It was one of those days where you just don't have any real plan and take it as it comes and it worked out like perfection. Everyone was happy and relaxed and it was a day in which gave me a chance to enjoy my family from morning til night.

We attended the Hoofdkwartier exposition, which was the only agenda we had that day. This is an exposition on autism and gives people an insight into how an autistic brain works. It is a head-shaped contraption made of steel in which you walk into and wear headphones filled with varying sounds while television screeens throw images your way. They also had some films in which autistic people spoke about what it means to be autistic and how it affects them, and numerous brochures and help-organisations available handing out information and sharing places you can find help.

This autism exposition was interesting. I am thrilled to see it being taken touring the Netherlands and Belgium, creating more awareness and interest in autism. The project itself is needed. However, I was a bit disappointed with the exhibit. Though the images and sounds can be somewhat hard to follow, with too much going on at any given moment, it wasn't as if I couldn't follow the presentation. I felt that the three screens which presented images were not enough to show the disorganisation of my own autistic son's mind. Yes, it was puzzling and a bit offbeat, with too much information thrown your way to really make sense of the entire presentation (example...there were images of 3 different people and their faces kept changing shape and form while the sounds on the headphones repeatedly told of who they were in a monotone voice, rather three voices at once along with other background noise), and yet, I was able to keep track of all three screens and filter out the unneeded information to make a bit of sense of the entire thing. I don't think that Kaeden is able to do this in real-life. I feel that he intakes so much information at every given moment, that he simply can't hear or focus on any ONE topic. The entire presentation had the right elements to describe autism, but in place of the three screens, I (and Erwin) felt that in order to really and truly show how autism feels, there would have been many more screens needed, completely surrounding you with various images. The three screens just wasn't quite enough.

This being said, I do not know how autism feels. My only experience with autism comes in the form of living with my autistic son. I think that I have a fairly good grasp on what it means to be autisitc, how disorganised life is living with it. How your brain is forced to process too much information until you are wiped out and either get angry because it is too much to handle, or completely close yourself off and keep your focus entirely on one thing (which is why I feel Kaeden often doesn't hear us...he completely tunes the world out so that too much stimulation isn't so unnerving). I will say, after being a part of the exhibition, I am glad I only havd to live in that world for those 10 minutes. Imagine your mind having to try to filter all that input every moment of every day. Imagine having to live in a place where your entire life you spend trying to filter out all the extra sounds and images, trying to hear the one important message through all the other sounds your brain intakes. It reminded me somewhat of this: I sit here typing, my mind is focused on the words I write, my fingers trying to keep up with the information I want to present in my mind...yet I hear the sounds of the keyboard, the birds tweeting outside, the cars driving by, the washing machine swishing, all the while thinking about how I would like another cup of coffee and then a dog starts to bark. If i focus on all those sounds and thoughts, my fingers stop typing because there is too much input and I can't think enough to write a sentence. My brain cannot handle it all and I have to pause.

But with autism, you can't pause. You live with autism, your entire life. Tjose sounds and thoughts and images forced upon you every second of your life cannot be put on hold while your brain readjusts. It just keeps coming at you, moment to moment, and the play button can never be put on pause, the whole thing just keeps fast-forwarding through your life.

When I entered the Hoofdkwartier, I knew it would be for just 10 minutes of my life. I knew I was being placed into a space in which I could leave anytime I wanted. I knew that I was there, experiencing autism, because I wanted to be there to gain more understanding of what it is like. Autistic individuals do not have the same freedom. They are not there for 10 minutes, they do not have the option to leave, and they aren't there because they choose to be there. But they do have to learn to live with it, survive it.

I don't think the exposition was done to the standard it could have been. But it was enlightening, and for people with no experience with autistic individuals, or no understanding of autism, I think it could be a very good tool to give them an awareness. Except, how to reach the people that need to experience this, need to learn more about autism? How to get those people that think autism has no impact on them to actually visit this exhibition? Tjose dealing with autism will be the first to want to experience it. Those who don't, will not feel the need to try to understand.

Here is a link, though it is in Dutch, about the Hoofdkwartier. It is a worthwhile project, creating awareness and a larger understanding about what autism is. And that, my friends, is the beginning of acceptance.


**I also asked Kaeden what he thought of the presentation. His only response was "It was fun." I'm not sure he understood that it was trying to project life as he lives it. But, he was very involved in the movies of other autistic people describing their lives. I hope that he learned, if nothing else, that there are more people like him out there in this great big world.**


tlawwife said...

I'm suprised that it didn't really freak him out if everyday life is too much stimulus all of that must have really been way over the top. Is all autism like that or just some kinds. Seems like I have read that autism is a big umbrella for lots of different actual symptoms. Sounds interesting though.

So this is blogging... said...

So what was Er's reaction to it? Do you think he'll have a little more understanding, if no patience with Kaeden?

Jen R. (aaron-n-jen.com) said...

Interesting exposition. I wonder if they ever do something similar around here. I'd love to take my kids to something like that so they have a better understanding of all spectrums of people.

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

I'm glad you wrote this post. I was curious about this exhibition because you had mentioned it before in a comment you left on my blog, and I was very interested to hear how it actually turned out. Even though it doesn't sound as accurate as it could have been, it's good that it exists, although I agree with you that the types of people who really should see it probably wouldn't.

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