Hey, Amazon Prime, no hard feelings, and I hope you understand. I know you don’t owe me anything, but I sure would appreciate a little empathy. Can you give me a second to explain?
I don’t watch a lot of movies. I’m autistic and movies are hard.
Part of my autism is an extreme sensitivity to visual stimulation. On a bad day when colors are too bright and things I see move too fast, all I want to do is retreat into a dark room and put a cool cloth over my eyes. I don’t say that to elicit sympathy. Hell, I rarely admit it. We all have our challenges, and mine are no more special than anyone else’s.
You’d probably never guess I’m autistic, and that’s a mixed blessing.
Hell, I almost never think about being autistic. I’ve had too many years to get used to it. Other than having trouble understanding people’s between-the-lines messages and getting motion sick over intense images, I rarely think about autism. I’ve been autistic all my life and I have little idea what it might feel like not to be.
Autism is me, after all, and I’m cool with that.
Sometimes I’m not sure how cool people are with me
I tell my friends I have a hard time reading between lines — that I usually take things literally even though I know I shouldn’t. I tell them I can’t stop just because I know. I tell them all I can do is try, even though trying is often confusing.
But I think my friends don’t know what I mean. I rarely see them TRY to know what I mean.
Sometimes when I watch my friends laugh at jokes, I want to cry
Because I know for sure I’d never get the jokes unless somebody explained them to me. Hell, I often can tell from cues that something is a joke. I often can use my (pardon the arrogance) formidable intellect to analyse a joke and come close to knowing why it’s funny.
But I can’t laugh.
Because the whole process is too exhausting. I think it’s a LOT harder than you probably think it is. I lack the sort of AI routines neurotypical people have that let then figure jokes out and laugh without even THINKING. That makes me so frigging jealous.
Guys, I’ve panicked over jokes since I was six. Jokes make me sweat.
Movies make me sweat
I love storytelling. Heck, I’m an accomplished storyteller. Since I was a 17-year-old Marine Corps recruit, nothing has given me greater pleasure than gathering a group of people around and telling stories that make eyes sparkle and jaws drop.
I love listening to stories. I love reading stories. I love helping people figure out how to construct compelling stories. Sometimes I’m pretty good at it, but I have a problem.
I have a hard time WATCHING stories
I’ll tell friends I don’t want to watch their YouTube masterpiece or their TED talk, and I can see they don’t buy it. Maybe it’s my fault. I say things like “Reading is so much faster. I don’t like video because it’s slow and inefficient. Can you please send me a text link?”
And I know they think I’m being rude.
But I’m not, I’m being me, which is being autistic, which in my case means watching your video might give me a sick headache that could last for days.
Have you ever been seasick and nobody cared? Have you ever sat in the back of a car struggling to keep your lunch inside you while everybody else joked around?
I wanted to watch a movie tonight
I was really in the mood. I’m in one of those phases where art films are really cool. I’ve watched four in the last three weeks, which for me is quite the feat. Sometimes I’ll go a whole year without braving two films.
But when I logged into Amazon Prime movies tonight, I got assaulted. Besides the crazy, multi-color saturated images from the screenshot at the top of the article you’re reading now, I got slammed with pop-up ads and MOVING images. Two of them disappeared before I could read the included text or analyse why Amazon was showing them to me.
To say my stomach did flip flops is to type a cliche that doesn’t capture the nausea that turned my stomach inside out. I looked for alternatives, but I can’t find a way to browse Amazon Prime without subjecting myself to visual assault that makes me sick.
So I gave up on movie night and decided to write this article instead. I do that a lot. It might explain why friends are often surprised at about how much writing I do.
I don’t know why I’m writing this story
I can’t expect Amazon Prime to redesign their marketing because I’m autistic. I can’t expect the majority of human beings to change their communication habits because my autism makes it hard for me to understand them.
But maybe, just perhaps, a stark example like this will help people “get it” a little.
Maybe that screenshot most of you find entirely ordinary will help you, just for a second, FEEL how I feel to be autistic.
Look at the screenshot at the top of the this article again. Go ahead, take a second and think about it. There’s no rush.
Now try to imagine how it makes me so ill I want to creep away and put a cool cloth over my eyes. And imagine I’m not alone, that nontrivial numbers of people, including people YOU know and love, experience that screenshot much like I do.
Imagine they won’t tell you, because they’re afraid you’ll think they’re weird
Some of us are cool with being “weird.” I’ve taken pride in weird for decades, maybe because I don’t have any other choice. Pride is how I stay sane. But sometimes I wish I could let go of my pride and ask for a little accomodation.
So, hey, Amazon Prime, could you please accommodate some of us autistic folks and give us a way to browse your movie selections in peace and quiet? I sure would appreciate it. I would have loved spending this evening watching a film, but I just couldn’t face the trauma of looking for one.
No hard feelings, and I hope you understand. I know you don’t owe me anything, but I sure would appreciate a little empathy.
James Finn is a formally diagnosed autistic person who is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to email@example.com.