Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | May 27, 2013

The Aftermath: An Autistic girl goes to a party

In addition to my PhD program, I teach a couple of classes in an unrelated (non-science) thing every week. The group of people I work with doing this is very outgoing. They’re very extroverted, and thrive on partying, “going out”, and all of those other things that make me want to curl up in a ball and not come out for weeks. So I usually just smile and say “thanks for the invite, but I have to be at work early tomorrow”. But this Friday was the birthday of one of my coworkers, and she had personally invited everyone to her birthday party. Despite knowing full-well that I don’t do well at parties, she asked me repeatedly to come, and there was a lot of pressure for me to make an appearance. So despite it being Friday night, when all I really wanted to do was curl up into a ball and process my week, I decided that I would suck it up and go to her party.

She was turning 33, it wasn’t a crazy college blowout – there were lots of people (and about 5 too many dogs – hello, overactive startle reflex), but no crazy loud music or rooms packed full of awful dancing or anything of that sort. There were nice people, most of whom I knew, and decent food, and lots of space to spread out and have some relative quiet. I made it about an hour and a half. And I’ve been completely wiped out for the rest of the weekend. Am I glad I went? Well, the exhaustion isn’t at all worth it. I didn’t really have a good time at the party itself, either. It wasn’t bad, it’s just really not my thing. But I went, because I knew it would mean something to this coworker, and I think it served that purpose. Was it worth it? I don’t know.

Being autistic means that I live in a world that is too loud, too smelly, too fast, and too full of people. I don’t do well in groups. And when I try to venture out into the expected world, it takes a toll. While I was able to cope with the bit of the party I was at while I was there, I’m still reeling from the after-effects over 48 hours later, and I don’t expect it will wear off for another few days. Basically, I’m worn out. Moral of this story? Just because someone is able to do something once doesn’t mean they can do it all of the time. Invisible disabilities are like that. It means that I might be able to “pass” or “fake it” for an hour or two. But the cost is enormous. When I accept an invitation, it’s because I’ve saved up enough spoons to be able to spend them. It’s because I have weighed my options, and decided that this use of spoons is a good one in the long run, that I don’t need to save them for something else. Sometimes the decision comes out in favor of the gathering. Usually it doesn’t. And that’s OK. I’m allowed to say “no” too.

That is all.

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Responses

  1. I could have written this. Even a weekend visiting my family is often too much and I take a good week to recover once home.

  2. Was it worth it? Not if it depleted you of all of your resources to make start over again on Monday. But if you were still able to rest up, it probably meant a lot to your student. I guess it’s a trade off – sometimes, building friendships means doing things we don’t feel like doing. But I am glad you are aware of your limits and boundaries as well.

  3. Like Steven said, I think it’s great that you know your boundaries. This can be very helpful in what type of parties or similar events you like to participate. Also, you speak very well about the dilemmas we as autistic people face in these situations.

    I will give you an example. I went to a 5 day OT conference in San Diego a month ago. Before I stepped into the conference arena for the first day, I had been receiving updates that there would be at least 5000 OT students and practitioners attending the event through emails and social media for a few months before that.

    There was a part of me that I didn’t want to go to the event… since I had no choice but to be social for 5 days straight. Moreover, it was a pretty overwhelming environment, since convention centers tend to be huge in major cities, as I have known through my 3 previous experiences at that conference in different cities.

    However, I also knew that it maybe the only opportunity of the year to see some OT practitioners and students whom I already know… on top of people I have known through social media but not in person yet. Moreover, I had to deal with being popular in OT. So, I may let a lot of people down if I didn’t show up. Finally, I knew it was critical for me to prepare my career after I am done with my doctorate degree. All in all, for the facts that I had too much to lose by not going, I went to that conference.

    So, over the course of 5 days, I probably talked to a good 100-200 people. I also went to a couple dance parties, a couple alumni receptions, and had at least four sit down meals with people.

    Was I exhausted after the 5 days? Definitely! Have I pushed my boundaries? Probably, since I did quite a bit of the social events on top of the business going on for most of the days. But I knew I had to push myself (sometimes beyond what I preferred) because I was in a position where I had to care about how I am perceived in the OT profession. Not that I crave for power and prestige, but I know that being popular can help with some of my OT career goals in my future.

    My take home point is this… with social occasions, we autistic people have to know about what we have to gain and lose aside from knowing what we can and can’t tolerate. Sometimes, the two sides don’t really agree. When that happens, sometimes we have to push ourselves beyond our limits. However, sometimes it’s better to take a pass. If we don’t know what the stakes are, ask someone that we trust who can give us unbiased opinions.

  4. I totally understand. You have to weigh it up and make a judgement call. It always costs spoons, but you can never be sure how many in advance. Sometimes you just want to be out there, living and experiencing things with your friends.

    • In some occasions, however, it maybe the situation that dictates whether you should participate in a social situation or not. The more popular you are, the harder it is sometimes to turn down social outings. Also, if the social outing is where you might get to see someone you want to see and the consequence is a long wait if you skip the outing, it is also harder to say no, too.

      Switching back to my occupational therapist hat, one question I will definitely say to other autistic people in such situations is, “The decision is ultimately yours. But before you automatically say no to these things, let’s see if there are things that you might regret later if you choose not to go to these outings.”

      If they have no regrets whatsoever, I would definitely support their decisions. But if there are possible regrets, that is where I will ask them about the significance of the consequences from their perspectives. Then, I will ask them if there are alternative solutions. If there are no reasonable alternative solutions, then I will help them game plan the social outings.

      Again, take my conference example I gave earlier. I knew there were some out-of-state occupational therapists I would love to talk to at that conference, as that was the best time of the year for me to do so. While there are alternative means, it is not as feasible. Moreover, in some situations, it was very important for them to associate a name with a face after being connected on social media. Yes, cost was a concern. But, the cost I pay later if I don’t go would be far greater.

      That said, each situation is different, we are the best judge of what the circumstances are if we don’t participate in social outings.

  5. Hi, I was really impressed that you managed 1 1/2 hours. After years of experience I still avoid as much as possible, but if I REALLY have to go I use the “I’ll pop by, I won’t be able to stay long, but would love to see you” (aspie truth mixed with NT social lying for relationship purposes) and I give myself 1/2 hour. That means I should be out in 45-50 minutes max and I resolutely stick to that. Just smile and smile and say no sorry I have to go now, but it’s been great, thanks for asking me. And then I flee. I still have a long recovery time, but I feel better about it believing I had some control. Over time people have got used to me and accepted that I’m not social – I just smile and shake my head, thanks but that’s not for me.
    That in itself has been hard work :/

    • In situations like this, I don’t think it’s a “competition” of who stays the longest. (In the conference example I gave, I actually stayed for at least 3 hours each for the parties. On one of the days after the party was over, I even went to a bar for a little over an hour with some people I just met from the conference. I did all that after being in a busy convention center for 10 hours or so with a good bit of socializing as well. That was the type of routine I had for 4 out of the 5 days I was at that conference despite being an aspie!) It’s more about how you participate at the level that you are comfortable with. So, you should be proud of the progress that you made… and if you are happy about going into such things for 45-50 minutes max, that’s fine and nobody is going to judge you on that. :)

  6. I really appreciate this post. I am a mom of a 17 year old on the spectrum. He has been non-verbal most of his life, but has just begun to talk to me using an iPad. Recently, he let me know that on Saturdays, he needs to stay in and not be required to do anything on anyone else’s agenda. It’s so reasonable, and I’m so glad he told me, because I was trying so hard to keep him busy and engaged. Thanks for spelling out for me what it costs you to do something very hard, to please others.

    • Thanks for your comment. :) Yes, for some of us, we just need time to let our batteries re-charge, because they don’t just recharge automatically. I’m glad that you and your son are able to communicate even more now, and that he is learning to advocate and that you are listening. That alone is so incredibly important, and I thank you for listening and responding. :)

  7. I took my almost 13 yr old daughter w/aspergers to a couple of back to back family parties last weekend. She usually does really well at these but kept asking me to go in a “private room” with her. She usually does pretty well w/family but there were other guests and I didn’t realize how anxious she was. Later someone joked that she took too long in the bathroom and someone left w/out saying goodbye and she looked like she was going to cry. We went home soon after. Thanks for sharing.

    • That’s a very cruel joke… whoever said that. (I come to realize that through my lived experiences as an aspie and my OT training.)

      That said, if there is something I have learned through my OT conference experiences (since I have come across many unfamiliar faces throughout my 4 years attending these things) that I can pass on to your daughter, Scott… it’s OK to be with people she already knows and sort of pretend the new people are not there if she doesn’t want to initiate the first contact. However, if other people makes the first contact, then she has to do the best she can to react accordingly.

      Over time, though, it is an important life skill for her to interact with people whom she doesn’t know. This skill, though, comes with time and practice.

      All in all, though, I think your daughter handled the situation the best she could… and that’s all you can ask for. What you need as she grows older, is to introduce the two life skills I talked about when you think she is ready to take the next step… especially if she is going to transition into college a few years from now.

  8. Great post! :)
    Thought I’d share some of my experiences too dealing with Aspergers & the awkward annoying moment a friend nags you to go out with them..
    Well growing up I kind of had this safety friend. She was the complete opposite of me..Confident, extrovert, flirty, social butterly etc..Even though we aren’t friends anymore I am thankful for her giving me some knowledge of what is expected within the typical circle of girls.
    Well when we got into high school I had a few more girl friends that my confident friend wanted to be friends with too so it was kind of like a bitchy girly circle I did not want to be in but didn’t want to leave as I would of had no one. They would always plan things or ask me to go out & I would say yes then make an excuse. As I got older I was more honest & said I wouldn’t mind going but not with everyone else just me & you kind of thing. I can’t cope being with more than one friend at a time so they started noticing that!
    Anyway I fell out with them one by one because I would cancel all the time or be undecisive about it for hours texting them canceling then feeling bad and texting them saying I will come, only to cancel again an hour later!

    Now I am older & have control over my thoughts etc better I can be more honest about why I don’t want to go places. Luckily I lost all the ‘friends’ that didn’t understand me & now have one friend I’m close to that already knows I won’t feel comfortable in some situations so won’t ask. (but if she doesn’t invite me I get angry..not that I would go anyway *sigh*)
    But I also have managed to enjoy going to some places if feel comfortable but I also love the fact in a few hours I get to be home in my snug dirty clothes & not have to do it again for ages! :)

    Ever want to talk feel free :)

    Maria

  9. This gave me a good perspective into my son. Thank you.


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