“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” Henry Thoreau, Walden: Life in the Woods
In the classic autism case, the autistic child appears aloof to the outside world and does not respond to social interactions. However, autism is now recognised as a spectrum disorder/condition with varying degrees of severity. While classic autism implies aloofness, individuals with Asperger (AS) tend to have a strong interest in other people. Hence, not all people with autism are loners. They can be extroverts, sociable and might even crave social interactions, albeit in a socially awkward manner.
More and more individuals with AS are speaking out, becoming vocal advocates of AS and seem motivated to socialise. All this is good for autism awareness but it troubles me on a personal level as I wonder if I am a minority of individuals with AS who prefers a life of solitude? It seems to me that the individuals with AS desire social interactions but are finding it difficult due to their AS, while my natural inclination is not to engage in social interactions but have to in order to earn a living in the city.
Children who were previously diagnosed with classic autism could show improvements and progressed to high functioning autism (HFA). There have been suggestions* that individuals with AS have a stronger drive to make friends than individuals with HFA, although the evidence is inconclusive. Could I have been a case of classic autism?
While there may be more similarities than differences in the social and behavioural abilities of individuals with HFA and AS, I wonder if there is a link between a motivation to interact and willingness to speak out? Are those standing out to advocate for AS more driven to seek social relations? If so, what can clinicians tell us of individuals who prefer not to socialise? Is this why I identify myself more when I read books on AS written by and from the perspectives of practitioners than books written from a purely personal account of someone with AS? I have come to think that what separates me from most people is not the fact that I have AS. It is not neurotypical (NT) versus AS. It is my desire for solitude as opposed to others’ desire for social interactions. This is what I feel separates me from the majority.
I am a self-proclaimed misanthrope. That said, I am not averse to making friends. I have made friends at work, I enjoy meeting new people during my travels and I am grateful for friends who have reached out to me. I am just far more comfortable and content to be on my own. Even if I do socialise, I have a preference for one-to-one interaction. To describe it more accurately, I am not anti-socialising; I have a limited capacity for multi-party socialising. Professor Tony Attwood observes in his book, “The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome“:
“The phrase ‘two’s a company, three’s a crowd’ is very appropriate for someone with Asperger’s syndrome. In a group setting, the person’s intellectual capacity may not be sufficient to cope with the social interaction of several participants, and the person may take longer to process social information that is normally communicated more quickly in a group than individually…There have been occasions when I have been involved in a reciprocal conversation with an adult with Asperger’s syndrome, and noted that when another person or several others join in, the person with Asperger’s syndrome becomes quiet and does not participate as actively and fluently as when the conversation was between just the two of us” (bold my emphasis).
To people who say I spend too much time alone, I will not attempt to explain further, your social approval does not matter.
“Many of us feel a need to spend some time alone on occasions. For some people this need will be greater than others. For people with Asperger Syndrome it may be particularly important. Because social situations are so challenging and demanding for them, they often feel that they need time alone to recover and just be themselves… This time to regroup and recover is very important, and you should not begrudge the person with AS such time as and when they need it.” Carol Hagland, Getting to grips with asperger syndrome: understanding adults on the autism spectrum (bold my emphasis)
I have been asked if I felt lonely to be alone most of the time. It seems to me that people who fear being alone and thus have a fear of loneliness, will never understand the blissfulness of being alone. To you, it is lonesome; to me, I am blessedly alone.
*Further Reading: Adam Feinstein, “A History of Autism: Conversations with the Pioneers”
“Ah! I need solitude. I have come forth to this hill at sunset to see the forms of the mountains in the horizon — to behold and commune with something grander than man. Their mere distance and unprofanedness is an infinite encouragement. It is with infinite yearning and aspiration that I seek solitude, more and more resolved and strong; but with a certain weakness that I seek society ever.” Henry Thoreau, Journal 14 August 1854