New York City from a neurodiverse perspective

Mahlia Amatina Flashing Lights

By Mahlia Amatina

Every city is different from a neurodiverse point of view. And this can vary day-by-day, mood by mood, street by street. In this blog post, I’ll run over my observations on how I’m finding New York as a city to live in.

From a sensory perspective, NYC, surprise surprise, is a very LOUD city. This is something I’ve noticed over and above *anything* else. Its complete and utter assault to my eardrums, are like no other. Horns honking. The train wheels screeching. But mostly the sirens from emergency vehicles. It’s like nothing I’ve heard before and seems to defy all logic – and sound barriers for that matter. And it’s constant. Even now after a few weeks of being here, I still jump and clench within myself, as the sound jars inside me, as I wait for it to simmer down. My body feels constantly shocked.

Mahlia Amatina "It oscillates and moves, unpredicatable"
Mahlia Amatina “It oscillates and moves, unpredicatable”

Normally I’m most sensitive to lights; their intensity in brightness and anything that flashes repeatedly or in a dance or strobe-style mode. And though the lights here are bright, I’ve seen far worse in Colombia. Here they’re just of a ‘normal’ brightness, (whatever that means these days). Surprisingly. I am deliberately avoiding the central mid-town area of Manhattan where you have the likes of Times Square and ample shops (no need to put myself through that!), so at least my eyes are being spared. The smells aren’t too intense either. I used to find in Colombia and Guatemala, the smell of food would dependably be in the streets, with vendors cooking food items from scratch. The aromas taking up the air space. Or other smells like shoe polish and other such chemicals. Here, it’s more in line with the UK’s ‘smell levels’.

Downtown Manhattan. Heavily build up. Also an area I normally try to avoid!

Like many large cities, New York is intense. Super intense. It can be hard to plan your day if you need to travel and get about by public transport. Trains are often delayed. The direction and stops are not clearly labelled – and then it’s not uncommon to find a station which shares its name with another station stop. Not helpful when you find yourself at the wrong ‘version’ of the station you’re supposed to be at! This is not much fun, and you really have to accept this and learn to plan in large margins into your time for lateness.

When you’re trying to cross a road, there’s a red counter that counts down the number of seconds you have left until the cars are unleashed to continue their ride. I know it’s like this in many cities, but given the size of the road to cross, this can be immensely anxiety-provoking. It’s not just one or two lanes of traffic coming at you either – but around four or five! This can feel quite disorientating. And stressful. I just find myself waiting a lot.

6 lanes of traffic
6 lanes of traffic to contend with!

The interesting thing, however, is that because there’s so much space everywhere, it doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming. Or certainly not to the extent I expected it to be. The streets here are huge; for instance the sidewalk (yes, pavement!) can often be as wide as an entire road in the UK. In this respect, it just doesn’t feel as concentrated in its overall sense of overwhelming force. Another consequence is that it doesn’t feel overly busy either. There are lots of people, sure, but you’re never really bumping into them, as there’s enough space to not have to do so. It’s a contrast to Broad Street in Reading, where you’re constantly having to avoid doing so!

So, every city is different, and New York varies a lot for me, but here’s a snapshot to give you my general impression.

Mahlia Amatina, the Abstract Colourist, is a visionary and neurodiverse artist with an international background that inspires her passionate abstract art. With roots from lands afar, her artistic inspiration stems from the varied landscapes and flavours of her global travels. Amatina’s wanderlust and love of the world fuels her mission to strive for understanding and continued kinship with all earthly beings. Amatina developed her signature style of Abstract Colourism through her search to merge expressive colour with a narrative element. Painting intuitively from her own pulse of acute emotions, she creates storytelling through abstraction that transcends language and can speak to all. Using acrylic paint, oil sticks, Indian ink, and all manner of mixed media on paper and canvas, Amatina explodes through traditional boundaries of style and purpose.

Amatina has been awarded the highly competitive ‘Developing your Creative Practice’ (DYCP) grant by the Arts Council England to go to New York to build new relationships, receive mentorship and collaborate with other autistic artists. The aim is to continue creating arts-led advocacy work around neurodiversity, that openly translates a positive message in impactful and accessible ways. Mahlia’s website is

Artist Statement

“My vision is colour. My heartbeat is rhyme. My mind expands with bursts of line, shape, and form. And my hands tell my stories.

I paint from an intuitive, visionary space, compelled to tell stories through art that can heal, transform, and transcend boundaries. With international roots and a passion for travel, my global understanding informs my artwork and fuels my desire to expand the experience of living.

Born into this life as a creative spirit, I’ve dedicated my life to connecting with humanity through creativity. Art imbues each moment of life, every cell of my being. This new passage came from an awakening to use art as my medium to continue the quest for meaning. The voyage continues.”

Cover image: Mahlia Amatina “Flashing Lights”

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