I want to be alone!
One characteristic of many autistic people is the desire to spend time alone.
Not everybody who is autistic is like that, but it has been noted by diagnostic professionals as something that can be used as a clue to diagnosis.
As a child I spent a great deal of time by myself, even though surrounded by eager siblings who sought a playmate. I did not play the same way they did, and often pleaded with my mother to keep them from bothering me.
I gloried in my first apartment at age 21… I could play music or read, walk my dog, cook, sleep, eat, take solitary walks,bathe in privacy, all in my own time and in my own way.. and I was responsible only for myself and my dog. Social interaction of the assembly line factory where I worked at the time was enough. I had that mile long walk or bike ride to work to help transition from work to home, and spent long hours in complete peace. I have only lived alone for about a year and a half of my entire (soon to be 68 years old ) life. I remember those times with a bit of longing sometimes.
I think the desire to be alone ( for me at least) stems from the overwhelming distress caused by uncontrollable sensory input and especially from social demands.
Socialization is very difficult business
It takes a long time for me to digest and make sense of the things people say and do, figure out what they want, understand their motivations and their desires, and respond in a manner satisfactorily.
The call to respond properly and immediately to constant demands to react to other person’s words is anxiety producing. Acknowledging barely perceived emotions and trying to respond to one’s correspondent’s evident (or sometimes not evident to me) desires for certain responses ( provide empathy, console, laugh at funny comments,provide encouragement or validation, provide information, assent or deny or negotiate solutions to constant requests or demands, etc).
These demands, even one of them at a time, are simply very hard work for somebody to whom none of those things comes naturally. It can be exhausting if carried on for extended periods of time. An hour’s conversation can put me into emotional and informational overload for a week!
I need time alone to rest between bouts as much as an athlete needs to rest before the next set of trials or demands to perform.
Sometimes it takes me a very long time to process interactions, to search for missed cues, to sort information gained, try to understand motives and what was being expressed often between lines and remaining hidden to me. I need time. I need time alone and undisturbed to make sense of my world and to protect myself from all the things that go too fast for me to understand them. I think it is a self protective behavior to protect against too much sensory and or emotional overload.
I seem to have developed a self protective sort of radar.. (hyper-vigilance perhaps). I always keep a sort of sub- conscious guard up whenever I am in the company of others. This means when I am in company of even one other person, no matter how benign or congenial, I am wary and worried about whether I will be able to cope with any interaction with that person. I simply can not let down and be unguarded. The only way to be myself, completely unguarded and relaxed, is to remove myself and assure I am safe from social pressure of any sort. This means my best times are spent alone on the trail and the lake shores, or in my personal spaces in my areas of the garden, or in the safe places I have designed with my spouse’s support inside the house and behind closed doors. Even then the sight of another person on the trail or a knock on my door can shoot me right back to vigilant state. Will I be able to respond correctly if somebody asks anything of me? Will it be the right response?
I became aware of this behavior pattern when my first sibling was old enough to follow me around and try to get me to do things I did not want to do.. about age 3-4. I remember resisting when my mother took me suddenly from any activity and immediately began another activity with me. I think it is part of the processing struggles in my makeup which simply require more time than “normal” social interactions are performed. I need a place to be safe from the constant demands of the world. Over time I have developed the desire to be alone as a sort of defensive mechanism to prevent sensory/emotional overload and allow myself space and time to process recent interactions.
My greatest needs for alone time surround things that are or will become stressful… a vacation, travel, extended stays of even the most beloved family and friends, weddings, funerals, reunions, and right now most especially the impending second visit to the kind psychotherapist I saw in April in another attempt to finally get “official” medical diagnosis.
I will want to be alone before and after this event, perhaps next to my own marriage day, probably the most significant single event of my life since I have been born.
I am acutely aware of my building anxiety. I will probably not want to speak to anybody for days after, while I process, digest, and sort any information gained and I try to understand the significance of the questions asked, the feelings that all of this digging (even though by a kind person I tend to trust) of a stranger into my deepest thoughts and memories… I will definitely want to be alone.
I am not sure what other autistic people gain by self isolation, this is my own perception of my own motives.
I hope readers will not think I am saying it is even remotely the same for a single other autistic person. I have not found any documented studies that explain the autistic person’s desire to be alone.
I have seen no more printed information than speculation of a few psychologists, regarding what goes on in our (autistic) minds that makes so many of us seek our selves in times alone.