Disabled and on Drive team

I am on drive team for the first time this year. I have autism and an autoimmune disorder. The autism makes it hard for me to be around loud noises and bright lights. I didn’t think it would bother me that much but I noticed that by the field I can feel the vibrations for the excessively loud speakers and it gives me a very ick feeling(IDK how to describe it). My team also plays music in the pits that I can feel and makes me uncomfortable. I also don’t like the flashing lights coming from the stands because it is very distracting while I am trying to focus on operating the robot.
On top of that I have an unknown autoimmune disorder that makes me very tired and sore while trying to do stuff for more than an hour at a time so 12+ hour days can be a lot on me. My drive coach knows some of this and does their best to help me. They said they were okay with me being on drive team but I still feel that there is a part of them that regrets picking me for drive team. I try to take breaks between matches but a few minutes after walking away someone comes after me saying they need my help. I feel like a burden but I also know that they really want me on drive team. How do I deal with this without getting overwhelmed and having a meltdown?


I too have Autism, and I feel the struggle. I’m our Stats Lead for our team and it’s stressful a lot of the time in stands with 6 other students. Every event should have a quiet room where you relax from the noise and bright lights, if not you can go outside. Your team should have a backup driver if you need to step out. It really sucks but if you need to take a break, you need to tell them you need a break, Having a meltdown is not fun, but at regional… It’s way worse, just thinking about it is intense. What helps me is bringing a few things that help me calm down like fidgets.

I hope you have the best season


Have you asked if there is a quiet room at the event venue? This could offer a break from the noise and people, with a place to physically rest.

Many people at our event last week wore calm or other in-ear devices to help mitigate auditory stimulus. It is likely too late for this week but I recommend trying something like this to see if it helps you.

FWIW this random stranger is proud of you for your self awareness. I hope you can show this post to your mentor or a teammate - and I hope they can support you. Drive team is a challenge and you deserve to be in the role!!


I have a student on my drive team that has very similar symptoms to you – highly affected by lights and sounds, gets very tired quickly, and other physical and mental sensitivities. As drive coach I encourage the student to take frequent breaks when not driving, have lots of water/snacks on hand, and lean on myself + other drive team members to help out where we can with robot and control station setup on the field. Even as an adult I can get highly stressed out by the craziness and longevity of the day and realize how much harder it can be for someone with traits that amplify things even more.
I would say for you, try to focus on the driving and let others on your team worry about robot repairs and strategy discussions. On the field, you can wear earplugs and sunglasses (if that helps and you can still operate + hear your coach/other drivers) and utilize the Quiet Room when available (most regionals have one). Most importantly, make sure you express to your coach/mentor when you are feeling uncomfortable so we can take action to help, otherwise we have no idea.


As an Autistic volunteer, I understand the sensory issues with events. It’s difficult for me to be in the event space without earplugs in. I use Loop Earplugs day-to-day and they become especially important at competitions.

As @jenfloyd08 mentioned, ask about quiet rooms at your events. That’s often one of the best places to recover if it’s available.

Most of all, don’t feel bad if you need to take a break from stuff for a bit and go outside or use the quiet room. That’s exactly what they’re there for.

Also, I’d like to mention that Neurodivergent of FIRST, an organization that works to help improve FIRST for neurodivergent people like us exists.


I use Loop Earplugs day-to-day

Slightly off topic, but I’m genuinely interested. Are these normal earplugs that look cool or does the loop do something functional?

I have tinnitus and my ears will ring for a few days after events, despite ear protection.

The different loops do different things, I use the Loop Experience Pro ones because they pass through sound clearly, but quieter, letting me be in conversation, but also have the option to put mutes in so that it quiets everything a little more (at the cost of a little clarity). The “Quiet” model is just a silicone plug for your ear, making things much quieter. I’m not sure if they’d have any impact on tinnitus, but they just generally help me by decreasing the intensity of the sounds.