"Let's go squeeze ourselves into bright, cramped changing rooms full of shrieking teenagers! Then we'll have fun in the Boots perfume section!" said no autistic person, ever.
Facing a maelstrom of sensory bombardment I commit myself to a daunting task: clothes shopping.
Summer is here. The weather is changing, my body is in a state of limbo after my second baby, as is my body confidence. Nevertheless, I need new clothes. For me this often means there are holes in old favourites or I've lost or gained weight. By the time I've decided to brave the high street I've probably considered which of my pyjamas I could pass as daywear or borrowed from my mother's infinite supply of floral scarves and waterfall cardigans. Short of doing the school run in six-year-old Marks and Spencer jim-jams, I can't put it off any longer.
Taking a deep breath of the fresh air and gentle sounds, I feel like a submariner about to travel to the endless depths of retail; my phone as my periscope to peer into my 'world above' when I'm trying to stay on course. The monochrome marble floor of the shopping centre stretches ahead as my precise autistic brain tries to find patterns in it, when all I'm trying to do is find Debenhams. My brain battles itself and the drowning, undulating sounds of the crowds, my body carries me to the storefront I've known since childhood.
I stop at the entrance, before fully committing myself. I have to face the gauntlet of perfumes, my eyes already beginning to sting. I remind myself that by time I reach the jewellery counters, in the mid-distance, I won't be able to taste Marc Jacob's Daisy or feel Joop mist on my skin. Head down I power through, like a bull in a... scratch that. Like an autistic person walking through a perfume shop.
Once I reach the brands I know fit my taller and larger than average frame, my first search mode is for colours and patterns. I'm a fan of classics like Breton stripe tops, pale florals, khaki and navy. Things that don't age. The aim here is fewer shopping trips as opposed to an attempt at Gallic chic.
From across the crowded aisle, I see my target. It's obvious when my interest is piqued as I push my glasses up with my scrunched nose for a closer look. The next condition the garment must satisfy is 'feeling nice' a deceptively simple term.
Nice top but scratchy sequins, foil logo that feels too cool against skin, material so thick I'll overheat, the list of what I don't want is far more comprehensive than my wish list. Jersey, loose cotton, leggings, tunics, supportive insoles in flat shoes... If you believe what the magazines told you I'm committing the faux pas of being boring and Gok would want me to sinch things in. Good job peer pressure has never held water with me.
The changing rooms are an absolute no-go, I shall not pass! Once I feel comfortable with the colour, pattern, material and design my mind is set and it's checkout time. I join the queue, visibly trying to shrink my body to avoid people touching me or feeling the vapour of their breath on the back of my neck. I dart to the till, perform my script and happily leave. The end bit I like.