Solitude Or Isolation?

Dear Anabelle,
My daughter spends a lot of time alone. How do I know what the difference is between taking the time she needs to decompress and time that she may be feeling isolated by her family and friends?

This is an excellent question, and difficult for me to answer:

When I was a child, I had no clue how to communicate when I needed to be alone, and when I didn’t. I actually thought that everyone knew what I was thinking, so I assumed they knew how I felt, and how to interact with me in that moment. I used to just walk out of a room and think that they knew why.

As an adult, my mom and I have had many discussions about communicating my wants and needs. Luckily, she is very intuitive and is very good at sensing when I need(ed) time alone, and when I need(ed) or want(ed) help moving forward.

Giving clear, direct, simple non-verbal ways for information to be passed, is a great way to help with the communication of her needs and feelings. Pointing, pictures, objects, movements/body language, writing/typing are all visual based ways of communicating information.

Having (and giving) visual choices of specific activities, and visual options for being alone or together may help her to better communicate those times when she may need to decompress, and the times when she would like to be together. It may also help her feel feel more independent, knowing she has ways of initiating communication that others may understand.

For example, you can try teaching the use of simple visual cards/signs that depict “alone”, “together”, and a few activities, then setting them near her in times you are unsure of her needs.
Point at the corresponding visuals saying something like:
“Do you want to be alone, or together?”
(Including a visual way to representing time will help, if possible. Like a visual timer, or an analog clock. It can give her an idea of a beginning and end.)
After giving her time to process and choose/respond, give activity options:
“Do you want to do X or Y?”

All autistic individuals are different, and there are many ways to approach learning and teaching. Everyone has their ways of communicating. If you persist, you will both find a way of communicating and better knowing one another.

~ Anabelle

Anabelle Listic is a 27 year-old artist living is Seattle and is a film and digital photographer. Anabelle has autism and is profoundly visual. She is passionate about her art and about mentoring parents and kids living life on the autism spectrum. Find more of Anabelle’s work and insight by following her Blog, Twitter and Facebook.