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Fact or fiction: people with autism are not social

Half the world's population is introverted and comes home drained after an evening of drinks. Their social battery is empty. 'People with autism have a similar experience, but much more intense,' says Boya Li, who researches emotional regulation in children with autism and hearing impairment. But does this mean that people with autism are not social?

Boya Li, researcher
Boya Li, researcher

Boya Li: ‘It’s true that some autistics are not social, but so are half of the world’s population. What’s wrong with that? And why does it matter so much when it comes to autistic people?

While extroverts find social time invigorating and feel recharged after talking with a large group of people, for many introverts, social time is not entertaining but only energy draining. Now, if you push this life experience to a more extreme end, there you get the autistic people.


It’s not that autistic people want to be rude or hurt others’ feelings, but they simply just can’t help that their energy is low, and at certain point, like your phone battery which dies suddenly, autistic people have to shut themselves down and retreat from any social interaction, so that they can get recharged.

autism, overstimulated, jasmijn den hoed
How does your brain feel when you are overstimulated? This is what artist Jasmijn den Hoed shows in her artwork 'OvErPRíkKeLd' (Overstimulated), that sheds light on the experience of autism. Click on the image to see more of her work.

In fact, non-autistic people are largely responsible for the quick draining of the autistic batteries. Just look around our environment, crowded parties, bustling public spaces, lively conversations, labyrinth-alike buildings, etc. Sensory overload is a challenge that many autistic people struggle with daily.

Meaningful social behaviour

Another fact that non-autistic people often ignore is that there is not only one narrow definition of socialization. While non-autistic people may prefer face-to-face conversations or physical touch, autistic people may find comfort in communicating through written or digital means, participating in online communities, or finding solace in shared interests or hobbies. These forms of socialization are just as valid and meaningful as the traditional modes of interaction.’

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