“Air-Conditioner Escaping Disorder”

Let me tell you a fable.

Once upon a time, an expert doctor was studying a child who ran away from rooms that had air-conditioners in them. Air-conditioners had only recently been invented, and it took some doing to figure out exactly what the child was running away from, but without a doubt, if he was in a room with an air-conditioner going, he would run away from it.

The doctor started a research study and found a handful of other children with the same symptom. He named the diagnosis Air-Conditioner Escaping Disorder, and published it in a journal to much success (within his field of course; most people outside the field had no idea about the existence of this disorder).

Thirty years went by.

The children grew up and were able to explain for the first time that the reason they ran away from rooms with air-conditioners in them is because the air-conditioners (having only recently been invented) were quite rattly and the sound bothered them, like nails on a chalkboard.

Other people heard these adults explaining themselves and thought, “Oh, I used to feel that way as a child too! I used to cry whenever I was in a room with an air-conditioner.”

Some of these people had been told to suck it up and deal with whatever it was making them cry.
Some of these people had been diagnosed with some other, incorrect diagnosis because of their frequent tears.
Now these people suspected that they might have had the same difficulty their whole life—that they, too, had had Air-Conditioner Escaping Disorder.

It takes another generation or so, but enough people with the ACED diagnosis grow into adults and explain themselves, and enough people hear those explanations, that finally the diagnostic criteria are expanded. Now professionals know to look for children fleeing *or* crying.

“Crying is like an emotional sort of escape,” some psychologists explain while trying to tell parents why their child is receiving an Air-Conditioner Escaping Disorder diagnosis without seeming to be “escaping”.

More kids grow up. Some of them, now adults, meet other adults with this diagnosis and say, “Oh, I felt like that as a kid—not about air-conditioners, but about refrigerators. Actually I still do. I cope with it by keeping my fridge in the garage.”

It takes *another* generation. By then some people are suggesting that this be renamed, perhaps to Household Appliance Sensitivity Disorder. Or that it should be rolled into another diagnosis, some kind of larger umbrella covering auditory sensitivity.

Some don’t think it’s a disorder at all. Some point out that technology has advanced a lot in the last sixty years and that there are quieter air-conditioners that don’t bother children, even children who had “severe” diagnoses in the first place.

Others still firmly believe it’s a disorder, a dysfunction, a deficit, a disease. Others still have wild misconceptions that it might be catching, or that some specific thing might have caused it.

Some people recognize signs of it in themselves or their children but don’t bother to get diagnosed. Others have to get diagnosis because it’s the only way they can force their child’s public school to legally install a quieter air-conditioner.

Without the legal weight behind it, some schools are kind and will fix the air-conditioners anyway. Some schools don’t have those kind of resources but will do their best to seat children with ACED as far away from the air-conditioner as they can, or leave it turned off. Other schools, perhaps well-meaning, perhaps urged by professionals, will force ACED children to sit right next to an air-conditioner, taking away their recess time if they flee or cry, bribing them with stickers for however many minutes they can tolerate staying there.

Some parents receive instruction from the same types of experts. Trying to do the best they can for their children, or possibly because they (the parents) are sick of being too hot, they blast air-conditioners in their homes despite how much their children cry and run away. “The world is full of appliances,” someone might tell them. “We can’t just coddle them by catering to everything they say.”

Other parents open the windows, or fan themselves, or take cooler showers, and their children can come home and feel safe.

Still other parents seek out the newest technology and manage to find a solution that fits both sides: Their air-conditioner is quiet, perhaps muted, and their child can handle being in the room with it. (People might look at their child and scoff, “He doesn’t LOOK like he has Air-Conditioner Escaping Disorder,” because their children are no longer in distress.)

In some countries, especially ones with cooler climates, ACED isn’t very well-known, or isn’t considered an existing diagnosis at all. Some of them have a different word for situations in which children are observed to flee from, or cry around, loud appliances of another kind. Some of them don’t recognize it at all. Some of them only own quiet appliances.

Some folks get annoyed with how prevalent the diagnosis has become. “In my day, there weren’t all these air-conditioner complaints,” some of them say. Some of their grandkids wonder aloud whether air-conditioners were even used in their day. That maybe the environment has changed a lot since they were a child.

And even when presented with all the evidence in the world—observation, plus the fact that adults are speaking about their own lived experience with ACED—some people dig down hard into the idea that the people living with ACED are just behaving badly and choosing to be an inconvenient problem.