Loneliness is hurtful, aloneness is harmful, outright exclusion is dangerous. I never feel lonely by myself, but being alone too much means a vital human need isn't being fulfilled and I have no idea it's happening. I don't have whatever pain receptor others have that internally notifies them of the need to socialise. Consequently, one of the worst remedies some could suggest for me is to put me in a situation with a stranger or more than a handful of people. I never feel so alone as when I'm in a crowd. That is when I can definitely feel something wrong.
The support group I attend every week is called a 'social skills workshop'. At the headquarters of the charity in Bradford, they run all kinds of workshops and one of them is social skills. When they decided to set up in my town, someone made a choice that of all the workshops they had trained staff and timetables for, they picked social skills. We, the participants, were not asked about this beforehand. We had to assert ourselves and luckily we weren't all introverts, but nor were we extroverts, we were 'ambiverts', flipping between deeply contemplative listening and messy but interesting bursts of words constructing sentences that formed opinions which posited absurd conclusions that we then debunked ourselves before we'd finished. That resulted in us trailing off, our voices gradually fading to mumbles and having to re-think everything we had just said. In doing this, were we actually demonstrating the poor social skills that the charity staff had assumed made the workshop choice the right one? Not really- these were qualities we shared as Autistics that endeared them to us, they were why many of them were interested in their work- why 'correct' them? Only the most shallow and superficial observer would look at how we interacted and dismiss it as 'dysfunctional'. We know this because all of us agreed that it was; the word 'shambolic' is very popular at the group and we love it and what it represents.
What was explained was that many members at other venues feel a lot more comfortable when given structure, so this was an assumption that had to be made. Autism affects different people in different ways, so they were playing it safe. but they had ended up with a starting membership of this local meeting who were all in agreement that they also wanted routine and structure- as long as it was theirs. The time table for each weekly meeting went out the window and the structure started being determined by our habits, which we were free to engage in. Here, I was not surrounded by the crushing loneliness of family life, work or obligation, so in response to the virtually unprecedented opportunities to impress, to surprise and listen- I started drawing on the whiteboard. They weren't always the 'How To' sketches I do now, but they were often useful for explaining something there wasn't words for. Some Autistics try to compensate for communication difficulties by developing an extensive vocabulary, but I wish I'd never even started talking. I wish someone had encouraged me to draw instead.