Does sprawl hurt children with Autism and Aspergers harder?

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Emu Egg
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20 Nov 2015, 1:21 pm


Iv'e been gathering together a theory I have been thinking about for a while.

In suburban sprawl, the environment is based on travel by the automobile. Shops, centers of entertainment, and cultural institutions are often located beyond wide roads with no sidewalks. There are few options to walk anyone and transit is often sub-par. So, children brought up in these environments are often ferried for the first sixteen years of their life until they get a driver's licence.

For children with autism, and teenagers with Aspergers, this applies more-so. I assume for most people on the autistic spectrum, driving is an uncomfortable experience. I did it with little trouble going to school with little thought but I have never driven on a highway before and I do not like driving to destinations today, despite having a driver's licence. I try to use the bus whenever possible.

When I went to college, things changed dramatically. I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga. itself and I will never forget that city. It is the most beautiful city of the South! Old weeping willows line the streets, every two blocks usually contains a small square, and there are tons of charming small buildings with shops. Living close to main street, I could walk to at least twenty restaurants within ten minutes. I would highly recommend a trip there if you have the time, and stay in the historic quarter.

Of course going to college gave me more independence and allowed me to grow and learn in more ways than my home suburb ever could.

I just want to point out that the built environment was extremely different. I never drove a car in Savannah, the college had an excellent bus system (mostly anyways) while I could walk to most other destinations easily.

Art Supplies? 10 minutes walk.
Food? 5 - 20 minute walk.
Half of the college buildings? 10-15 minute walk.
Major dorms? 10 minute walk to a thirty minute bus ride.

A second huge effect living in this city was being able to have casual social contact with thousands of strangers. You may call it 'city living'. Savannah though is a small city so I wouldn't say it's overwhelming. It's not like being in the middle of Times Square, NY. I gave confused tourists directions, high fived friends walking to class, and walked to a pizza joint to hang out with students once a while.

That type of casual social contact does build social skills doesn't it?

It is not as rewarding as a strong friendship, but it does count as social interaction; a small victory against loneliness and isolation. Chatting up store owners, asking tourists questions, and even just saying hello counts.

These issues dawned on me on my last two years of college, when I took some classes on architectural history. I looked at thousands of buildings stretched across Europe and their cities. Buildings usually abutted the street, had easy access for pedestrians on the street, and connected well with the rest of the city. Compare that to a Walmart, or most suburbs in America today....

Sprawl promotes social isolation, and for individuals without cars, it's catastrophic.


That's all I have for now, but I will return to edit and build upon this. Any comments would be appreciated.

Pileated woodpecker
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20 Nov 2015, 1:29 pm

I rather enjoyed my suburban upbringing. It's very comfortable for me, as I can withdraw myself from other people quite easily. I am content with having lived a lot of my life in a car on the way to specific places for specific tasks. Each place had a different task, so I could easily organize my life through spaces.

Inner cities are too chaotic and condensed for my taste even though I quite enjoy working in the central business district, as the commute gives me time to catch up on the day's frivolities online. But at the end of the train ride, I can get away from everyone to my own living space.

As an adult, I have continued living this lifestyle. It is calming for me. So put me down as a "no" for your original question.

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20 Nov 2015, 2:07 pm

If transportation issues in the 'burbs hurt us too much, I reckon we'll grow up and move.

Assisted housing usually provides some kind of limited transportation, and a lot of assisted housing projects seem to end up located in low-income urban areas (I assume because the neighbors can't afford to pay for the services of NIMBY and BANANA, Attorneys At Law).

If you're independent enough not to need those things, you're independent enough to move when you become an adult.

Rural areas, you'd think, would make it even worse. At least in the 'burbs, you can figure out a way to ride a bike. Try that when the grocery store is 20 miles away.

If anything about the 'burbs is particularly damaging to autism, it's the suburban attitude and cherished illusion of picket-fenced Pintrest perfection.

Yes, I hate the 'burbs. Can ya tell?

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20 Nov 2015, 5:43 pm

It depends on the city as to whether casual interactions are good and relaxed or not. In London, where I now live, having to walk around among all these strangers is actually very stressful to me. There are no laid back, high-fiving interactions. There are just strangers dashing around, walking very fast, thick crowds where people bump into you without even an apology -- that's actually an Aspie nightmare rather than a good thing. Crowds are overwhelming, traffic noise constantly rushing past is sensory overload. There is no sense of peace. But that's London, not Savannah.

In my other city I lived, I was in more of a suburban sprawl area, although to be honest the entire city was very much a "drive or you're screwed" city, even downtown. And I LOVED that I could be in my car everywhere I went. Remember that Gary Numan song "Cars"?

"Here in my car, I feel safest of all, I can lock all my doors, it's the only way to live, in cars."

I found because I was in my own personal vehicle, an environment I had sensory control over, not having to deal with random strangers and noise, I arrived everywhere feeling much calmer and more relaxed, so that I actually had more energy to cope with whatever social interaction took place at my destination, be it a store or a party or work or whatever.

Car travel and living in "suburban" isolation helped me reserve energy to cope with social situations when I chose to go out there and put myself in them -- and as a result I put myself in them more than I do now.

Now, in a busy city where I walk and use public transportation, I am so burned out by being constantly surrounded by noise, crowds and rude people, that I'm too burned out to seek more of it by choice.

I'd rather be isolated and save my energy for chosen interactions, than be always subjected to strangers and noise and burn out on it.

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20 Nov 2015, 5:56 pm

I like cities much better than suburbs.
In cities, I can walk short distances for most needs.
In suburbs, I mostly stay in the house.
But I need to have a car to live in a city, to get away from the city when I want to, like daytrips to nature places.

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