We need space to flourish. In fact, the word “autism” comes from the Greek term “autos,” which means “self,” or “to be with one’s self.” After long periods of socializing, collaboration, sensory stimulation, or stress, most autistic people seek out recharge time in isolation. But what if our loved ones don’t understand this need for space?
Autistic people are often sensitive to criticism and conflict. If our requests for alone time are met with a defensive response, we may mask our needs to curtail conflict. Or, we may take the alone time anyway but ruminate on the other why the other person is upset. Here are a few tips for getting space:
1) Preemptively explain to loved ones why we need time alone. It’s important to have this conversation before the recharge time is necessary. Once we are burntout, exhausted, or overloaded, a drawn-out discussion about our needs is often next to impossible. Even more, if we briskly ask for alone time in the moment, the other person may interpret our request as a personal attack. By discussing ASD traits and needs prior to the exhaustion, our loved ones will hopefully react more positively when the time comes.
2) Assign an “alone time” code-phrase. Once again, prior to needing alone time, we can create a phrase that will indicate our needs and share that phrase with our loved ones. I suggest making it a positive and supportive phrase. “I love you, and right now I need to recharge” or “Let’s spend time together when I’m feeling internally rested” are some ideas.
3) Make specific requests while using “I” statements. Whenever discussing a need for space, it’s essential to speak in the first-person. Try statements like, “I cannot focus on conversations right after work” instead of “You know I can’t listen to you right now.” This may prevent or mitigate arguments when we need silence the most.
4) Take note of our loved ones, favorite hobbies that they can do without you and offer them as suggestions when we are recharging. Perhaps they enjoy gaming, reading, gardening, or playing an instrument. People often need a motivating friend to engage in their personal interests. We can be that friend!