Spending Most of My Time Alone as an Autistic Person Doesn’t Mean I’m Antisocial
I was diagnosed with autism in my early adulthood by specialists in the field. And then I participated in a series of experiments that my local university was running that led to my diagnosis being confirmed. I have autism. No matter how outgoing I sometimes appear on the outside, I have some very well-hidden coping mechanisms related to my autism.
I’m an adult now, and I’ve finished school. I learned something while I was in school. I learned that most conventional university experiences are full of noise, full of people and full of a crowd of young people who seem to me to move as one in their perhaps instinctual understanding of what a party is, or what a get-together is. I would be perfectly content if it was acceptable to sit at the edge of a party or just outside it, far enough from the noise, and be part of it by solitarily enjoying the proximity. I love to listen. So many autistic people I talk to want to be part of it, but just because we enjoy the fringes doesn’t mean we’re not enjoying it at all. I enjoy the fringes the most.
Now that I’m not required to sit in rooms with hundreds of people talking — listening to things my auditory processing issues can’t make sense of because the words can’t compete if the air conditioning is too loud, or someone is eating potato chips two seats down — I’ve found that I relate to the world in a different way.
I spend almost all of my time alone. Someone might assume I’m sick or maybe depressed. And I do have bipolar disorder as a comorbid diagnosis, which adds a new flavor to this, but frankly, I just like to be alone. For me, in these years since graduating school where I’m no longer required to be part of a crowd constantly, I’ve learned I am much healthier when it’s just me. I can keep my emotions regulated. I can recover from a meltdown — not only that, there are fewer meltdowns because I’m dealing with less at a time. This does not equal antisocial.
I’d also like to break down the stereotype that autistics can’t be charming. People like me who have spent a life writing scripts and watching how those scripts impact the people I say them to have developed quite a social lexicon — but it uses a fuel we don’t have, and the more we have to do it, the closer we can get to burning out.
When I was a kid, the way I’m living now would have seemed like a catastrophe to me. I wanted to be conventionally beautiful, be absolute “normal.” Not this balding 33-year-old semi-dude (nonbinary, but that’s another blog post) who spends at least 85 percent of his time alone. I used to dream of the day I would like going out dancing, going to parties, hanging out in large groups. The older I got, the less I wanted that. The older I get, the more content I am with myself.
I’m not someone who avoids social interaction at all cost. Theatre has always been my deepest interest, right from childhood when I couldn’t talk to people and it caused me so much stress and anguish that my dad started writing me scripts. They worked so well that I started writing my own scripts. I have this whole script system laid out in my head like a library of flowcharts. All the easier stuff, like pleasantries, are there. Conversations with cashiers about the weather or what holiday is coming up are there. And then there are the specific situations like an outing with a friend or a volunteer job. Those take time to create and are more involved. There are more variables and I write scripts for every variable I can think of. Once I’ve got scripts, I play the interaction in my head. Visually. This comes from theatre training too. How close will I stand? What will my hands do? What door will we enter? Walking, or standing still? What are the escape exits just in case? If I’m lucky enough to have been there before to have a visual picture of the place in my mind, it’s like playing Barbies in my imagination.
At the same time, no one is aware that I use so much mammoth preparation for something as small as a coffee chat. So when I get tired easily, or upset, or I need to step outside and collect myself before continuing, I’m always afraid they will smell the different on me. It’s reaching that point where pretending for so long has eaten away every last bit of fuel I’ve been putting into performing.
I fly under the radar easily. I have learned to socialize well, and as part of that I’ve developed an attitude of “I don’t care what they think,” which leads to genuine reactions on my part. Usually only people who know autism can see it in me at first glance. But just because I can mask the problems I have for short times doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared.
I’m going to write a part two about what I’ve learned about working and living as an autistic adult as safely as possible, as openly as possible. Because experiencing burnouts can change my life drastically.
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Thinkstock photo by jokerpro