One of the most difficult aspects of being on the autistic spectrum for many of us is that feeling of isolation or difference when we are around or in the company of others. This can be for a variety of reasons, and not just the usual reason given by specialists of our difficulty with social skills. My social skills are reasonable and I can initiate and sustain conversations on a range of topics but even so I can feel quite isolated or different, even if not appearing so to others.
For example, I am currently on a family holiday, there are three generations of us, ranging from pre-teen to over 80. This involves a lot of compromise, which I am mostly ok with, until a sensory sensitivity kicks in. For me, the tv being too loud (or as my partner says loud enough to hear) is very difficult to deal with. Unfortunately for me, one of the compromises this holiday is that the tv has to be on top volume (even my partner agrees it is very very loud) as the over 80 year old cannot hear it otherwise. This results in excruciating headaches for me unless I leave the apartment. As you may realise, this results in a feeling of isolation or difference as no-one else in the family seems to mind having their eardrums bombarded in this way.
Now I had, in true aspie style, come prepared to ensure this scenario didn’t happen – I brought board games that were suitable for all the family members. What I did not anticipate however was that tv was more interesting than board games for all the other members of the family. Again a feeling of isolation or difference…..
Another example, the steam room was ‘too smelly’ for me to tolerate, but luckily the pre-teen said it stank, so I felt ok about that. However, when out shopping, one of the shops smelt truly awful and my partner suggested that perhaps it didn’t really smell bad, but that my “nose is over sensitive”. Pointing out that she had walked around the house looking for dog poo last week, when she was convinced the dog had done something somewhere, when I said there was no dog poo smell just the dog’s terrible fart smell did not ameliorate the situation.
For others on the spectrum it can be issues around light or food or routine or a variety of sensory or social issues that can provoke these feelings of being isolated amongst others. I think sometimes it can be easier to choose solitude than to try and stay positive and content in oneself when feeling isolated. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time feeling lonely around other people, which I found hugely distressing. Now that I have reframed that as isolated, which to me has a different visual interpretation of contained or cocooned within some barrier that keeps me apart from but still in the midst of others, I do not feel so distressed. To me loneliness had an image of stranded alone on a island far from the other people so that I was both apart and separated, but I could still hear and see the others and hear and see their reactions to me.
I am convinced that supporting children on the autistic spectrum to feel comfortable in their own selves enables them to avoid being lonely in the company of others and so avoid the pain and distress of that experience. Once comfortable in my own self I became able to see that I had a choice to isolate myself or be amongst others, even if that being amongst led to feelings of difference. Different to me does not imply better or less than, rather different to/from and equal to. Thus I can see it is necessary for me to either be sensorially upset by the loud tv so that my family can watch a programme together that they can all hear or I can chose to say, sorry I can’t listen to the tv this loud, it bothers me, but you all enjoy and I will go out and do something quiet. No-one in this scenario is better or less, just different. I chose to sit on the balcony until the sun set – which meant I got to see a lovely (but fast) sunset, and then to go to the gym and out for a hot chocolate. I had a surprisingly good time, though tomorrow I’m going to have a waffle with chocolate sauce or a chocolate soufflé instead!
As adults on the autistic spectrum we have a great deal more choices than we sometimes realise and I enjoyed reading blog posts about learning to make choices by another adult on the spectrum (sorry I have forgotten which blog if someone tells me, I will edit this post to say who). As adults on the autistic spectrum we can help children and young adults on the spectrum to understand what those choices are and how to become comfortable in our selves and therefore comfortable with being different from/to others. I have a lot in common with many other adults aspies, and yet we all have differences between us too. For adults, whether or not we work, have families, children, our politics etc can all contribute to commonalities and differences and sometimes these differences are bigger than commonalities. It is ok for us all to be different, as equals we can still work together to advocate for ourselves as a group and for humanity as a whole to accept and value the diversity and inherent equality of all individuals.
(Here is the sunset I got to observe)