LIFE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM: A BALLOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN
By Brian Lafferty
May 31, 2011 (San Diego) – I have a fear. This fear trumps snakes, spiders, heights, even death. It occurs at parties, especially of the birthday variety. It makes its presence known at the grocery store’s floral department. Despite their light and rubbery nature, they instill trepidation greater than public speaking. I’m talking about globophobia.
Globophobia is not a fear of the Earth, circles, spheres, or spinning globes. It is a fear of balloons.
My fear of balloons goes way back. I remember shortly after my Autism diagnosis my mother reading Temple Grandin’s book, Thinking in Pictures. She read the passage about Grandin’s fear of balloons and told my psychologist how I also had a similar fear. During that time, all of my idiosyncrasies present in childhood began to make sense to mom. This was one of them.
I remember my first day of school at Canyon View Elementary School in the spring of 1992. I sat down on the carpet with the other first-graders. So far, so good. Then I saw a balloon. The teacher, Mrs. Schwartz, handed a classmate a large pin with a feather on the other end. Before I could cover my ears, the kid routinely popped the balloon.
I quickly learned that the popping of the balloon signified the start of a new day. Mrs. Schwartz admonished me for screaming. I had difficulty verbally communicating my fear of balloons but she eventually figured it out. She came up with a solution: before this ritual was to be conducted, I would go next door to Mrs. Roberts’ room until it was over.
My globophobia confounded many kids at school. They could not understand how anybody could be afraid of balloons. Some teased me about it. My family and my friends’ parents, however, always accommodated me. They didn’t understood why I was scared of them but they knew that they made me uncomfortable.
So what is it about these colorful toys that make me so anxious and jittery? Why do I feel safer in an airplane than being in close proximity with them? Why do I have the uncontrollable urge to cover my ears when these seemingly innocent pieces of air-filled rubber invade my presence?
That may sound like hyperbole but I can assure you it’s not. “So it pops,” you might say. “What’s the worst that can happen?”
That’s just it. The balloon popping is the worst that can happen.
Whenever I hear a balloon pop, it feels like a bomb going off in my ear. Not only is it loud it’s sudden. I can’t predict it, either. There’s no telling what could make it pop. It could be trampled on or squished. It could brush up against any surface such as a carpet, wall, or furniture and there’s no way to know when its time is up.
Today I’m not around balloons as much as I used to. I rarely go to the mall (where there are plenty of balloons for kids) except for absolute necessities. I hardly ever go to parties and even when birthdays do roll around, all that’s needed is good food, games, music, and chatting.
Even so, I always have, always will fear balloons. Sure there are people out there who could help me. I’ve read of advancements in technology that has successfully helped people conquer their most paralyzing phobias. But would it be worthwhile?
I say no. I hate balloons but I’ve learned to live with this fear for over twenty-five years. As apprehensive as I get around them, it’s taught me a lot about instinct. It’s taught me how to control my emotions and manage my responses to other scary things like spiders and snakes. Fear is a part of the human condition. Like Autism, it is not something I want eradicated from me.