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Reacting, Retreating, Regulating and Reconnecting

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

This is a summary of study findings from Florence Neville, an autistic Health and Wellbeing PhD student at the University of the West of England, exploring the need for autistic people to have alone-time. "Alone-time for autistic people isn’t really talked about in academia, but I know it’s vital for my wellbeing, and lots of my autistic friends feel the same way. So I want to explore what alone-time means for other autistic people."

The researcher looked at:

"Reacting to Social and Sensory Overwhelm: My participants were often overwhelmed by social input, sensory input and needing to mask."

"Retreating from Social and Sensory Distraction: It was very important to have safe-spaces to retreat to – away from social input and negative sensory input."

"Regulating, Recovering and Recharging: Being immersed (really involved) in an activity helped in recovery from overwhelm, and helped to ‘recharge batteries.’

"Ready to Reconnect with Others: Often my participants wanted to be sociable, to reconnect with other people after some time apart. But it was difficult to be sociable if they were overwhelmed or exhausted and hadn’t had a chance to recover or ‘recharge their batteries.’

The research is very interesting - check it out here

Needing alone time is definitely something that affects me and, as in her research, even with people I like and love. As I've mentioned I was in my late fifties when self-diagnosed so I masked all my life. I didn't know I was masking, I was just trying to behave in a way that others would like/love/accept. It was exhausting and there would often be times when I would be so overwhelmed I would have to just stay home, stay silent, unable to even talk to a friend or family member. And I know that doesn't make sense to a non-autistic person because it didn't make sense to me before I knew I was autistic. It reminds me of my mother who used to get up really early sometimes when I was little. I would go to join her and she would invariably hiss at me 'go back to bed' and I would with my feelings crushed. I didn't realize it was nothing personal just my mother trying to get a few minutes to clear her head before the day started.

For many years I worked for the federal government and working in an office as a public servant was another time I would have reacted, retreated, regulated and reconnected on a daily basis. I remember feeling like I was walking onto the stage when I entered the office or walked into a meeting. The situation would be quite overwhelming to me but I didn't realize what the problem was. Certainly my work was my focus and I did nothing else during that time but work, come home, and prepare myself to go back and do it again.

It would be great to hear what others think. Do you sometimes get overwhelmed and need time alone, even away from friends and family? If you're comfortable sharing please do so in the comments.

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