Monday, February 21, 2011

The importance of Alone Time

Something which is a frequent topic in autism, particularly for people who are more articulate and more inclined to interact with others verbally, is how to get people to be more "social" and how to enable the autistic to "come out of their shell" (An expression which, without fail, always makes the think of Victor Bregeda's egg paintings, like this one here) I remember, even pre-diagnosis, that this constituted a large part of my parents' concern for me when I was growing up. I remember parent-teacher-Leah meetings on my lack of socialization. I was also taught tips and tricks on how to "break the ice" (Another weird expression which makes me think of cracking and made it sound painful. Work on your socialization metaphors, neurotypical society)
I'm not objecting to this mentality. I think that it is important to give autistics a chance to learn how to interact with others in a manner where both parties feel comfortable and at ease. Why more people don't devote lessons to neurotypicals on not invading personal space and making us uncomfortable, I don't know. That's for another day. But there is a slight flaw in constant focus on socialization. It undervalues the wonderful contribution to the strength of the mind that solitude can offer. As important as proper socialization is, solitude is just as important, and we cannot afford to think of it as a symptom of something wrong, just the opposite is true.
Currently, I live with a house mate in an apartment provided for by my university. Fortunately, we are given our own separate bedrooms, and the living area is generally broadly spaced enough so that we can both be there without invading each other's personal bubbles. But sometimes, I need to stim, or I need to be utterly alone. It's not a matter of being embarrassed to stim in front of another human being. It's just that I'm very sensitive to the presence of other humans when my body is sending the signals that indicate I need to stim to calm down. So I often retreat to my bedroom, or get lucky and have the house to myself so I can stim without being interrupted by the presence of another person. Post-stimming, I'm more relaxed, and I'm less sensitive to human presence and minute changes in my environment. Don't be insulted if a stimming autistic decides to retreat to someplace more private, and definitely don't be worried if someone begins to stim in front of you. It's calming and perfectly harmless.
Beyond stimming though, I like my isolation. It's no secret that to the autistic brain, the world has the potential to be chaotic, overwhelming, and can drag you down on a bad day. But in my own alone corners, I have more control over what I interact with, and I can focus on my surroundings more readily when I'm alone. If there's not another person present to break my concentration, I can more greatly appreciate the natural beauty of an outdoors scene, observe a painting with closer scrutiny, write and appreciate the tapping of my fingers on a keyboard, or read and get completely hooked into the story. I'm still interacting with my world, but I'm doing it on my own terms.
Such interaction with the world is of equal value to interaction with humans. It enriches an autistic person's understanding of their selves, and can be used to develop a stronger defence against sensory bombardment. Once in a while, give the social training a rest, and let us decide what we want to do and where we want to do it. It's not the end of the world if you grow up preferring a book or a walk in the woods to idle chatter at a party.

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