autism loneliness social skills

8 Days without Wifi

I have somehow just managed to spend eight days without wifi while trekking in Nepal and although it was very stressful at first, I found it quite beneficial.

I am the sort of person who spends their life on the internet. My job is online, all my notes for my degree and research is online. Plus, I’m a big user of social media with my best memories being captured by my phone.

Being without the Internet has taught me a lot about how I live my day to day life.

I think spending time on the Internet deludes us and our ability to process things. It’s a time filler that draws us in like any other addiction. I’ve found that time has slowed down a lot while I’ve been here. Usually I measure my life in days and the activities I do but I feel like I’ve been measuring my life in moments. Minutes and even hours are too much to think about. It’s a long long trip characterised by hard days so it is literally about taking each step at a time and having a deep connection to each moment – whether it be through pain, awe or joy.

I think time slowing down helps you to think about the more important things in life. It’s weird that the Internet connects us to the wider world yet also disconnects us from the world that exists inside us. It gives us instant gratification but not the same as the gratification that comes from being able to truly be aware of who you are and your surroundings.

I think it has really helped me with my ‘what if’ mentality. I usually stress over small things through catastrophising but I think being so disconnected from everything has made my brain breathe a bit. The Internet massively provokes anxiety. It’s quite amazing to experience life without.

Another big thing is the fact that I haven’t felt lonely, despite not being in contact with anyone in the outside world. I haven’t seen anyone other than my dad, two Nepalese people and a few sherpas yet I haven’t had that empty feeling I get when engaging in social media. The internet is a so called way to combat lonliness yet I think it can also prevent us from feeling connected to ourselves. I think a lot of it comes from feeling like we ‘should’ be doing something else or ‘should’ have more friends. This trek has just made me really grateful for the connections that I do have. Lonliness is effectively a biological response meant to trigger us to connect to others as we are a social species made to work together. I think that doing a trek such as this has made me and the few people I’m with connect despite the language barrier.

“Our evolutionary advantage is our brain, and our ability to plan, reason, communicate, and work together. Our survival depends on our collective ability, not on our individual might.”

John Cacioppo (2013)

I think what I have realised through the intense gratitude I’ve developed is that it is the quality of relationships that matter to me, not the quantity. This is a big thing for me as I spend a lot of time and energy seeking new connections. The way that I do this is things that involve ‘doing’ such as volunteering or work.

Obviously I’m not going to go internet free when I’m back but it has made me consider my usage and how much I value the people in my life.

autism loneliness

How to not be so lonely as an autistic person

Loneliness and Autism is often misunderstood. It is a common misconception that autistic people prefer to be alone however many people with autism actually do want to share time with other people, share thoughts, feelings and ultimately be understood.

With autism, there’s a constant struggle between wanting to spend time alone, be absorbed in narrow interests and repetitive behaviour, and wanting to connect with others.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on

I have always struggled with loneliness. and I think it is very much due to my autism. I think I felt most lonely at school. It’s hard to be friends with people when you are the odd one out. Even when I was with people, I felt like I didn’t belong.

People know the definition of loneliness, but there’s a misconception that it means being alone. Not quite. I am quite empowered by solitude. Often, people feel lonely when surrounded by people. I think I felt most lonely at high school because I compared myself to the sociability of others.

Loneliness is the most awful feeling. It feels like being the person who nobody wants to pair up with; being the third wheel; sitting people watching at lunch, wishing you could be like them; lt feels like crushing disappointment; doubting every ounce of your being; being full of things to tell people but realising you have no one to talk to; It is making a fool of yourself in front of people because you’re socially awkward; It’s realising that no one needs you or wants to be with you; You’re in a busy room, laughter surrounds you in a suffocating chorus, but no one notices if you are there because you’re not funny enough, not happy enough, not cool enough, you’re not enough; You try to smile at people as you walk past, for a small reassurance that you do exist, but they always have other people to smile at; It’s sitting there, surrounded by people, eyes glazed over and your throat constricting.

The thing I’ve come to realise is that I don’t feel lonely when I’m alone. I feel lonely when I am surrounded by people who don’t understand me. It is this lack of understanding that builds a wall between me and other people. I know that when I can relate to people, I don’t feel lonely. It is human nature to have social interaction, even for introverted people like me.

People always tell us that it is good to be different and that we should embrace it but despite their nice sentiment, it’s usually only meant within certain parameters. You can’t be too different – only the type of different that fits within social norms.

I think the common causes of loneliness in autistic people are related to the way society treats people who are different.

People are afraid of what they don’t understand and what is different. It is something that protected us in the past. People try to eliminate differences because they pose a threat. They like their communities to be uniform because it makes them feel safe. Seeing someone different forces people to examine themselves and their own beliefs which most people dislike doing so rather than change themselves, or accommodate person who is different, people like to exclude and alienate them, further exacerbating their loneliness.

I think communication can also be a big barrier to not being so lonely. I really struggle being in a group of people and often end up third wheeling. I prefer to meet people one on one. I think it’s hard to explain this to others. If friends are meeting in a group it can be hard to explain that I do want to meet them, just not in a group. I might also struggle to explain that i’m not declining an invite somewhere because I don’t want to meet them but more because I don’t like the activity. I can be very blunt over text as well which can unintentionally offend people. When trying to make friends, my lack of eye contact can put people on edge or make them think i’m anxious. All these differences make it really hard to maintain friendships and lead to me feeling lonely.

I still struggle with loneliness these days just not so much as I did before and for the time I was in a relationship, I didn’t really feel lonely at all.

When you are lonely, you can be your own best friend.”

To try and stop myself being lonely I try to be part of communities that have the same sort of goals as me. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find someone exactly like you (and if you do you are extremely lucky) so it is good to think about any interests you have that other people may also have. For example a really enjoy running and Parkrun (a free, weekly 5k run) is a really friendly community I am part of, and where I have met some great people. A lot of the steps towards alleviating loneliness involve putting yourself outside of your comfort zone – which is hard but so so worth it. Sometimes, you’ll put a lot of effort into people and they won’t reciprocate but you’ve got to realise that it isn’t so much a reflection on you but them and you’ve just got to persevere. You will find your people eventually!

The first hurdle in getting into a good group of people is getting over the initial stage of first meeting them. Here are some tips:

  1. Focus on the other person – rather than focusing on yourself and how you are coming across, focus on the other person, it’ll make you less self conscious.

2. Ask open ended questions that can’t just be answered with yes or no. Think about ones that start with the Ws, What, where, when, why etc

3. Comment on the surroundings, things like “I really like the food here”.

4. Make small talk – it’s best not to talk bout heavy subjects or anything provocative when you first meet people but instead talk about things like the weather or anything interesting in the news.

5. Ask questions about things you have in common.

6. Laugh at yourself – humour is a great way to get over any embarrassing thing you do.

7. Be an active listener – show that you are listening to people by asking follow up questions and showing that you’ve understood.

8. Fake it till you make it – sometimes you’ve got to act confident to start feeling confident!

I think that one of the reasons that I like to be so busy all the time and taking part in so much social action is because I try to get over my loneliness by having a sense of purpose. It is a good thing to do however it can limit your chances at having a good social life! So it’s all a balance really.