For the hundredth time at a playground, children stalked Liev. Their sinister goal? To play with him. Liev is tired of other people. Forced on him at school, he tolerates them, but he seeks respite from noisy peers on his own time. Socialization, always expected, despite his default wiring screaming, “Give me space!”
Does autistic introversion different from typical introversion?
I wonder. My husband is a true introvert, a quiet-loving, drama-avoiding, peaceful fellow following solitary pursuits like books, film, or learning a musical instrument. I wonder if he married me, knowing I would keep to myself in a separate room. Although he turns on the charm at work, leading team meetings and giving presentations, it does not give him energy. Solitude replenishes him.
I resemble my husband, but with a higher tolerance for small talk. Teetering on the edge of awkward, I wait to make one joke too many. Or worse, a joke that no one else gets because their brains are not clocking a Tourettic 120 miles per hour. I shine among a handful of people, scripting, “What curious weather!” Or handing out compliments—my favorite thing. Everyone has something delightful about them.
So on to Liev. Perhaps he has the same trouble I do. Visiting a playground is about exploring the topography first. Environmental novelty always impressed me more than people novelty. My nature demands politeness, so I would engage with other children, even if I would rather check out that giant mossy boulder that looks like a toad. Liev avoids other kids because he does not have room for politeness.
When he grows that space, I hope to teach him to be proud of his differences and defend them. I wasted too many hours, bored and trying to fit in. In first grade, I puzzled over girls playing house. How could they pretend to make dinner when they could have a dinosaur rodeo? No one took me aside to help us play somewhere between. As a result, I played on eggshells, waiting to be outcast and mocked. Educational culture has evolved from the conformity prized in the 1970s. I bet today’s little girls would welcome dinosaurs in their domestic games. And Liev? I’ll normalize his right to play alone.