Did you see the chart above? I couldn’t have said it better myself. NT (or neuro-typical/non-autistic people) relax by socializing. For those of us with an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) such as Asperger’s, socializing is the very opposite of relaxing. Loud, crowded places (gyms, malls, etc) are over-stimulating. They are too busy. Too loud. Too much.
Being social and going to group events is exhausting to me. When I go to church (Especially a new church), I tense up every time they say “Now turn to your neighbors and shake hands!” UGH. No. NO. NO. No thank you. The social activities that are fun for the rest of the world are often overwhelming for us. Too many people. Too much noise. Where do I put my hands when I stand here? Do I look as uncomfortable as I feel? Is there a corner I can go to? A cat I can pet? Ugh. The worst part is – we RECOGNIZE that we are uncomfortable and we HATE it. People say “If you know what causes your anxiety then you won’t feel anxious!” That is 100%, absolutely, totally NOT true.
You react with anxiety at the thought of a little tiny spider or a mouse. You know these tiny creatures make you anxious. Are you less anxious around them because you know they cause anxiety? No. We react with anxiety at the thought of socializing in group settings.
Please don’t try and suggest “fun” ways to make it easier. If you think there is something we haven’t tried, you’re probably wrong.
Please don’t make light of our anxiety because you don’t think it is a “big deal.” I love snakes and spiders and bats and rats and all things creepy-crawly. I don’t understand why normal women jump on furniture and shriek at the thought of a 6 ounce mouse running across the floor or scream if someone hands them a frog. The difference is I don’t tease you for your response just because my response would be different. The mouse is obviously a big deal to you and I respect how you feel. Even though I may think your reaction is over-the-top and silly – I would NEVER try and make you feel less-than for your instinctive reaction. Please give me the same respect even if you do feel my anxieties are silly.
Please don’t guilt us into coming to your social event or make us feel bad if we don’t go. You don’t like Spiders and Snakes. We don’t invite you to hold a tarantula or enjoy the reptile house on your day off. We respect that you have your anxieties. Please respect ours.
The best way I can describe to you how I feel at parties is this: Imagine you are uncomfortable around rats and mice. I invite you to come to lunch with me in a room filled with loose rats and mice. I tell you not to worry because they’re all tame and they won’t bite you, but they will crawl all over your feet and the table we’re eating on. I might even expect you to share your sandwich with them. Logically you know the mice are small and have no intention of harming you. Would YOU feel comfortable? Would you ENJOY your lunch? How would you feel if you declined the invite and I kept calling to say things like “Seriously. It’s all in your head. It’s harmless! What are you so afraid of?” “You never eat with me in the mouse room when I invite you. Why do I even bother being your friend?” Can you see where I am coming from now? Can you see how unfair that is?
Please let us have our down time. Our quiet time. Our time to relax and refill the energy we need to take on the next day, the next situation. We’re not lonely. Although I know it may seem foreign to many neurotypical people – I LIKE being alone. If I’m home alone on a Sat night with a good movie or a good book and a slice of pizza, it IS a great night for me.
Finally – please, PLEASE don’t tell us it is all in our head and we can just ‘get over it’ if we TRIED HARD ENOUGH. You’re right about it being in our head. Our brains are WIRED differently. There are MRIs that have proven the electrical activity in our brains IS different from those of a normal ‘neurotypical’ person. Telling us we could ‘get over it’ if we wanted to is like telling a person with Muscular Dystrophy that they could run if they just TRIED hard enough. You would NEVER do that to them. Please don’t do it to us.