Alone … Not Lonely

I’ve always enjoyed being alone. My two autistic kids feel the same. And I never thought much about it until I was older and it was brought to my attention by  non-autistic people.

I talk to parents frequently about autism. I also tweet, blog and present to different organizations on the subject. One topic that comes up time and again is the idea that we are lonely.

Parents seem to worry over this perceived loneliness, so I thought I would share my thoughts with you and give you a different perspective. It is important to share that my thoughts are my own. However, when I use the terms “we” or “us” I am speaking of my autistic kids and my autistic friends, not all autistic people.


While we all share this great big beautiful planet, it’s no secret that Autistics and NTs experience the world very differently. So it should come as no surprise that our perceptions differ as well.

No matter our neurology, we all have moments when we are alone and times when we feel lonely.

The times it seems as if there’s no one around to lean on, or to talk to or to get what we’re all about.


That’s lonely.


So what do I mean when I say we’re alone but not lonely? Well, I mean just that. We are physically alone, but not feeling lonely. Hmm… I think it’s easier if I show you…

A mother approaches me and points to her child on the playground: A cute little boy sitting alone in the far corner of the sandbox. Other children of all ages are laughing, playing, and running together, swinging on swings, sliding on slides and playing chase in loud, boisterous groupings.

The mother looks at me, sadness apparent on her face as she looks back at her son. He’s not running and playing with the other children. He’s not smiling, or laughing or playing chase. Quietly he sits, contentedly sifting sand from one hand to the other, back and forth.

His mother looks at me with a pained expression. Can you believe this? Her eyes ask me. He’s so lonely. What should I do?


I don’t understand.

You see, she and I both observed the same event, but we perceived it in two very different ways.

I saw a little boy playing on the playground, highly focused on the task of sand sifting. No interruptions. No one telling him how to play with the sand, or imposing their rules or ideas. No kids intruding and playing with the sand wrong. And, yes, in case you were wondering:

One absolutely can play with sand (or anything else we’re playing with) wrong.


But while he was physically alone, he didn’t appear the least bit lonely to me. As a matter of fact, if you paid close attention, and you looked at him just right (if you looked at him autistically), he looked really happy. That’s what I shared with this Mom. And when she looked back at her son, and she looked at him a bit differently, she saw something she had missed:


He was happy doing things his way.


As Autistics, we spend a great deal of time working to understand things from a NT perspective. Our entire lives actually. And it is difficult, some things, honestly I will never understand, such as participating in a rowdy group of screaming kids running through a playground. But it’s apparent to me that that it is what they like. And that overwhelming, over-stimulating, anxiety-inducing ‘play’ is what makes them happy. And that’s lovely! It wasn’t my choice of fun when I was a child – I was definitely a sand-sifter – and there’s nothing wrong with that. We need you to try and see things from our perspective, and that means taking a step back and looking at things very differently.


And that’s the beauty in neurodiversity. That’s what makes us all individuals. It cannot be about imposing our rules and beliefs on someone else because it makes us more comfortable as a society. And it won’t always be about understanding, but I truly believe it has to be about




Consider this: If you look at us with NT expectations, you may see us as difficult or even impossible to understand. But, if you take a moment and try to experience the world as we do – and we’ll show you if you let us – you will find a unique and beautiful way of


B  E  I  N  G


Renee Salas is an author, public speaker, and advocate.  She is currently a member of the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities (VBPD) 2013 Partners in Policymaking program. For more insight and to ask questions, be sure to follow her on twitter.