It’s a matter of comfort.

“I just want to be alone,” Ricochet says, his eyes fixed on his feet. He seems to sense that it will disappoint us. We hear this quite a bit from Ricochet these days. He doesn’t want to participate in family activities. He doesn’t even want to have family dinner anymore. Why this seemingly sudden shift?

Ricochet has always been a loving, compassionate momma’s-boy. He liked to spend time with me for sure, and at least tolerated time with the family. Around his thirteenth birthday last fall, this started to change. At first, I thought it was a teen thing. I didn’t want to spend time with my family as a teen, so I could see how this could be a valid reason for his retreat.

I suspect there’s more too it than that, most of which has to do with his autism. Asperger’s and autism affect social and communication skills a great deal. Even for kids with autism who are verbally fluent, they struggle with conveying how they feel, and understanding body language, tone of voice, and the intention of others. When everyday social interactions are such a struggle, it’s no wonder they often prefer to be alone, or with just one other person.

The more kids with autism (and ADHD too, in part) feel they don’t “fit” in the day-to-day world around them, the more they will retreat from it. I’m certain that’s the explanation for Ricochet. Being in groups of his peers, or even in a small group like our family, are uncomfortable and stress him out. It’s too hard to anticipate and manage all that may come his way. Not to mention, it can be loud, which is another of his stressors.

Taking Cues from Our Kids

Choosing not to eat family dinner with us  — a nightly ritual — is heartbreaking for me. It’s hard not to take that action personally, like he doesn’t want to spend time with us (which is exactly how his dad interprets it). However, I know that he’s living an overwhelming and stressful life, especially at school, so I don’t push a lot of other things. Would I prefer he want to spend time with me and the family often? Of course! I love him dearly, and I love his company. But I recognize his differences and know I have to let him show me how he’s most at peace.

There are a few ways to try to keep our kids from fully retreating from the world as mush as possible.

  • Give them lots of opportunities for one-on-one social interaction in a comfortable environment (like their own home).
  • Offer opportunities for group interactions in areas of extreme interest to them (Minecraft club, for instance). This will help them overcome their fear of discomfort to participate.
  • Let your child choose a family activity. He or she may not be comfortable at the movie theater, but they might really enjoy a family hike. Take cues from your child on what they are comfortable doing.
  • Allow them some alone time. We all benefit from quiet time where we can focus on our own needs for a while.
  • Make a plan with your child for what they can do, other than retreating, if they begin to feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable. This is something we are working on with Ricochet, because it causes school avoidance. Just yesterday, I had to pick him up early because he was feeling out-of-sorts. After an hour at home, he came to me and said, “My brain has calmed down and I feel like I can go back to school and finish the day now.” I’m going to work with the school to create a plan for him to be able to get some quiet and calm down while remaining at school.

It’s all a process.

Author: Penny Williams

Penny Williams guides and mentors parents raising kids with ADHD and/or autism. She’s the parent of a son with ADHD and autism, and the author of three award-winning books on parenting kids with ADHD: Boy Without Instructions, What to Expect When Parenting Children with ADHD, and The Insider’s Guide to ADHD Penny is the current editor of ParentingADHDandAutism.com, Founder and Instructor for The Parenting ADHD & Autism Academy, and a frequent contributor on parenting and children with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications.