I am going to repeat something that I mentioned a couple of entries ago: Autistic people get lonely. You might think the way to deal with that loneliness is simple – go be with people. But for someone with autism, it’s a little more complicated than that.
If there is one thing I’m obsessed with and will gladly absorb myself in for weeks and weeks on end, it’s musical theatre. I just finished a run of a play (the run is what they call the time the play is on stage) where I was acting. I was socially successful in this group of people, largely because theatre is what gets me engaged. When I’m immersed in my interest, that is when I’m truly engaged with the world. Most autistic people have an interest or two like this.
But I’m not always that socially successful. Just today I went out for lunch with a group of people with autism, and the restaurant was very crowded and very loud. I barely spoke a word. I couldn’t formulate thoughts. I couldn’t contribute to the conversation. I wasn’t even AWARE of the conversation most of the time, I was too busy trying to calm myself down and stay in my seat.
The functioning level of people with autism can fluctuate. People who see me during a theatre show have seen the REAL, engaged me. But when something causes me to disengage, be it noise, or light, or overwhelming emotion that I can’t even name, I’m not nearly so functional. And sometimes the amount of extraneous input that causes me to disconnect can be small, sometimes I can tolerate much larger amounts.
I mentioned that I just finished the run of a play. This means, all of my social connectedness and the things that make me engage with the world have ended. So I’ve been feeling sad. I’ve been feeling lonely. I’ve been feeling isolated. I still engage with the world. I go to the practice rooms at my university and sing, and get ready for the next theatre experience, for the next audition. The next chance I’ll have to feel those social wires connect. But I don’t really engage with people very much.
So I guess what I know is, it’s hard for me to connect with people. I don’t even know how to keep a conversation with non theatre people going, never mind make friends with them. So my cure for isolation is to immerse myself in my interest and the people will follow?
I hope so. Because the solution to loneliness for an autistic person is not as simple as just going to be with people. You have to go be with accepting people. I was successful in the cast of the play because they KNEW I had Asperger’s, and even if they didn’t know exactly what that meant, they didn’t discriminate when I asked them not to whistle, or when I needed to turn the music down, or when the audience was too loud and I had to plug my ears backstage. They didn’t care if I didn’t understand pop culture references unless they related to Broadway, or that I turned several conversations into conversations about musical theatre.
So of course it’s a culture shock when the show ends and all of the sudden you barely see those people any more. For someone who has trouble making friends, it makes the isolation so much harder.
Temple Grandin is a big advocate of letting autistic people thrive by building a life from their strong interests. I support this idea. Because the place I thrive is in the theatre. I saw that clearly this summer.