Having autism can be a little like being a celebrity in that you hear a lot of things about yourself that even you didn’t know. What’s that? I’m pregnant? This is the first I’m hearing of it, though then again, I haven’t had my period in 25 years.
One particular nugget that keeps popping up like a pimple the day before your first date in six months is that those of us with autism allegedly hate being around people. That socializing is a form of torture to us, like being water-boarded, or forced to use one of those 90s modems where you can grow old, die, be fossilized, and be discovered by Klingon archaeologists in the time it takes to load Google.
The interesting thing about this particular assumption is that it’s not a cut and dry matter, but more of a double-edged sword.
As always, I can only speak for myself; autism is an incredibly diverse condition, and I’m sure many people with it will disagree with my experience.
But I’ve found that socializing is like exercise; it can feel great, and it’s good for me, but it’s also exhausting. Because socializing means paying attention to body language and expressions, and trying to manually decipher them. It means constantly running my brain at 110% capacity as I try to string together coherent and appropriate sentences. (And often slip up) It means having to absorb a flood of information, like watching a lecture on quantum physics played in fast forward.
And if the onus is on me to drive the entire conversation, it feels like I’m Gandalf fighting the Balrog up the stairs from the water table to the top of that tower where the dwarves presumably kept their frozen peas and ice cream.
Don’t get me wrong, I like it. After all, eating a whole pizza is also exhausting, but that doesn’t make it unappealing!
The more familiar I am with the person, the easier it is; with my closest friends, I can be around them for hours without needing my alone time, but on the other hand, if I don’t know someone very well, it takes a lot out of me. Again, I’m not saying I don’t want to meet new people, but it can be a nerve-wracking process. (Though ultimately worth it, as in the last year alone I’ve met some truly incredible individuals)
From an outsider’s perspective, I guess it’s easy to mistake my mental exertion as me not wanting to socialize. But this isn’t the case; if anything, it gets a bit lonely sometimes, now I’m living away from home and not in a University dorm. Work helps alleviate this, but that’s a little like living on field rations when you’re craving the aforementioned pizza.
So, contrary to what you might hear, people with autism don’t necessarily dislike the company of our fellow humanoids. We may find social contact challenging, but that’s not the same thing.
Think how boring life would be if you didn’t do any of things you find challenging.
Or, alternatively, think what life would be like without pizza.