One of the things I have noticed over the years is how much importance is put on socialising, and consequently, how bad people think it is if you don’t particularly enjoy going out and socialising. I think everybody knows that a lot of people with autism aren’t particularly keen on socialising. Often this will cause worry in the parents, who feel that if their child isn’t out there doing everything that neur-typical children are doing, then they must be missing something from their lives. Of course this is only borne out of wanting to do the best for their children, but ultimately it can cause a lot of unnecessary stress and tension. Some people with autism want to socialise, but just don’t know how, and there are all sorts of ways to help them to do this, which I might cover in a later blog But for now what I would like to talk about is people who don’t socialise simply because they don’t want to – because they don’t enjoy it. I am probably one of these people. At the moment I socialise as much as want to; I talk to friends on-line or by text, and so keep my friendships going, but I only meet up with people once every couple of weeks or so. This might sound excessive, but for me time alone is important; most people need time to themselves, whether they are autistic or not, but for me personally, and a lot of other autistic people I know, time alone is essential. It goes back to the point I make time and time again in everything I write – put yourself in the autistic person`s shoes – imagine you are living in a world where the majority of people you spend time with are autistic. However diplomatic you try to be you will definitely need a break after a while. I don’t have many good friends who are autistic – not for any particular reason, I just don’t. So when I go out and socialise, I am going out with neuro-typical people, and after a while I do need a break from this. If I don’t have some time alone I find myself getting very stressed. Of course seeing your friends is good, but for me it`s not the most important thing in life. I have a lot of work to get on with each day, and it is hard enough to manage my time without being out for several hours seeing other people. It is not that I have a problem meeting up with friends – I have some very good friends who I enjoy spending time with. But because they are good friends they don’t mind that I don’t go out and about that often. Now, as I said, it is completely understandable for parents to panic if their child prefers spending time alone than with other people, but investigate – find out if it’s what your child wants or not. If it is, and they are comfortable with their existing social life, then keep your nose out and let them get on with things.
It is very hard for anybody, autistic or not, to see something from someone else’s point of view. I am somebody who loves films. I can’t imagine what your life would be like it you went for weeks or months on end without watching new films. To be honest I think you would have a fairly boring life if you didn’t watch a film every couple of days, but that`s because I am looking at it from my point of view. In my life I need to watch films regularly. In your life maybe you need to go out, and hang out with your friends every day. For me, it would drive me mad. There is probably only a handful of people who I could put up with seeing every day; I`m not going to say who that handful are, in case it causes offense.
I don’t think you should ever push your children to go out and socialise if they don’t want to, but I think you should always give them the opportunity. But do it in a respectful way; explain what something is, why they might enjoy it and what benefits they may get out of it. Help them to try to understand why they might not want to do it. Once they understand, if they still don’t want to do it then that`s fine. People who are quiet or reclusive get a very bad press in today’s society – but don’t be convinced by that. Keeping to yourself is fine if it’s what you want to do – as long as you don’t let it become damaging to your mental health or well-being – then spend as much time alone as you want to. But at the same time don’t completely discount any benefits of social interaction – keep an open mind.