Socialising while Autistic: A Personal Journey

I was wondering this week what to write about and I realised that somehow I hadn’t managed to churn out an article about possibly the most obvious topic relating to Autism there is: Socialising. Of course there was a reason for this, most of my articles have been written during the months-long break from school during the first lockdown and the summer, when socialising was the least of my concern. I have decided to write two articles on this topic. Today’s is focused on my personal experiences and the pain I have experienced over the years. The next will be more broad, and fact-based. This week, I was reminded of the importance of this topic after an incident with my friends. I won’t get into it here because however awful they made me feel, no one deserves to be shamed online. I will say this, the incident, small as it was, made me feel particularly powerless and hurt. I have often found that this blog can be a perfect antidote to this, I can control how the world sees me, how the world treats me, it makes me feel powerful. So, here I go.

Growing up in a house surrounded by adults, I think a lot of people saw me as precocious. I would speak like an adult, I would ask adult questions, I wanted to talk about adult things. In other words, I was a pain in the arse. I remember one particular incident in a restaurant I took the opportunity to ask the waiter for the bill. Mum was shocked, I think that was the day I actually learnt what the word precocious meant. Of course, Mum and my teachers eventually realised that I didn’t mean to be cheeky, I was simply doing my best to act like the people who I spent the most time with. As I have spoken about before on this blog, when I wasn’t talking to adults, I would play with my pretend friends. They were kind and didn’t judge me, there were no rules with them. At home, I think Mum saw it as her somewhat only-child simply making her own company. In school, despite my teachers’ concern, Mum insisted it was simply only-child syndrome, something I would grow out of but I didn’t. Eventually they realised, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to make friends, I did, but I didn’t know how.

For as long as I can remember, I have felt no sense of belonging, I have always stuck out. Whether it be for my socio-economic background, my family history or my Autistic personality. I have been to four different schools, and I have never truly belonged. Even when I made friends, I always stuck out. I will admit, I have no filter and I can have a habit of saying exactly what I want to say, regardless of who is listening. When I was younger, I was made to feel embarrassed by this, especially by my peers. In my teens, I learnt how to use this honesty to make people laugh, I learnt how to hide the fact that I cared what people thought of me. I started to learn to accept the fact that no matter what, I am always going to stick out and I might as well do it with pride. This journey towards self-acceptance began after a particularly difficult incident about a week before I started Second Year. My First Year had been quite rough, I had tried to conceal some of the more quirky aspects of my Autism and had failed to do so spectacularly, I ended up trying to hurt myself as a way to tell people that I needed help.

I got that help and a few months after that incident, I thought I was healed of a lot of my pain. I shut out the possibility of friendship. I was convinced that it wasn’t meant for me, at least while I was in secondary school. Of course, I was wrong and I suffered from bouts of familiar loneliness and isolation. Eventually in Transition Year, I was able to find friends again, some of whom I am still friends with now, some I am not. From my experiences I have come up with a few observations about my interactions with others. I have learnt that although I enjoy spending time with people, I also find it exhausting, especially if I am going through a rough time. Socialising as an Autistic person is like remembering the rules of a game, that everybody else intrinsically knows, I have to both play the game and remember all the rules or I lose. This is exhausting, for about every hour I spend socialising, I need to spend an hour resting on my own, or with people like Mum, who don’t really care about the rules. My friends don’t always understand how difficult it can be for me; when you look normal, they expect you to act normal. I have also learnt that although I value female friendship, some girls my age are still quite catty and immature. It is as if some of them pause for a while in their teenage years where they have the bodies of adults but interact with each other like they’re eleven-year olds. I think this is why I sometimes prefer the company of adults or boys. Adults and boys can be a lot less complicated when it comes to socialising, I find them easier in many ways.

It’s funny, I haven’t thought much about these things until this week, when I suddenly found myself with a lot more time alone. These feelings of loneliness come up sporadically. Though I never know when they are coming, they can come often or seldom depending on what I am going through. They always take me by surprise. At home, they nearly always result in a meltdown, where Mum will eventually calm me down. They are more common in school however, where they are a lot more painful. They often result in me asking to go to the bathroom during class and almost silently crying, wanting to let it all out, knowing that I can’t, while I use all my strength to recover. In those moments, like in nearly all my dark moments, I wish I wasn’t Autistic because then I wouldn’t feel this pain.

In all honesty, the thought of going to college right now is the only thing that gets me through each day. Although I will be sad to leave secondary school as I will miss the familiarity and the happy memories I have, despite how miserable this article makes it seem, college seems like this “Promised Land” for me and my fellow outcasts. Mum has often said that she was told by the clinic that diagnosed me that secondary school would be incredibly hard, but I will come into my own in college. College seems like the place where oddballs like me are actually respected for being oddballs and are allowed to excel at the subjects they love, without the fear of any social stigma. I might look back on this in five years and laugh at how innocent I was; I don’t care at all, I learnt that it is important to have a dream to keep me going. If I don’t believe that my future will be happier than my present, then what is the point of it all?

Thank you to those who got to the end of this article. I certainly didn’t expect to unload as much as I did. There might be a time, when I would be able to discuss this subject in a more positive light, but right now I’m struggling. I hope people understand from this article that Autistic people are capable of feeling pain, despite popular depictions of us, where all we seem to feel is confusion and severe anxiety. To quote Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Autistic people are people and just because we struggle to play a complicated social game that everyone else knows the rules to it does not mean that we do not deserve respect, love and common human decency.

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