Frank Bruni, the author and columnist, wrote recently about his experiences during the first two months of the coronavirus. He pointed out how hard it is to predict the future. “From childhood on, we’re told how uncertain the future is. We have aphorisms galore for that idea. Life turns on the dime. Here today, gone tomorrow.”
Six months ago, or less, we had little idea that a pandemic like the current one would occur, yet if we had been asked back then if such a situation was possible, we would have been mistaken to say it was impossible. The future is, indeed, uncertain.
Bruni describes missing the panorama of daily experiences that we call normal in our lives, the everyday encounters, large and small, that add “a dab of color or layer of varnish on an existence indisputably duller for their absence.” He reminds us that boredom is the least of our concerns right now. Nowadays, “boredom is a privilege.”
It’s true that many of us yearn for the calming certainty of routines, waking up knowing more or less what’s about to happen that day, secure that all is well, that we will go about our business, events will happen as they usually do and we will go to bed in the evening expecting tomorrow to be pretty much the same as it was that day.
The problem with Bruni’s assessment of boredom is the fact that many people experience the predictability of their lives not as boring but as tedious, a chronic struggle with monotony, sameness, and never-ending routines and patterns that offer no escape and lead to no change. Our society is built around offering alternatives to tedium, and most people welcome the opportunity to escape the expectation that tomorrow will be exactly the same as today, just another Groundhog Day.
Not so in the case of most adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Generally speaking, they yearn for sameness and predictability, routines and patterns, in other words, tedium. This is an important idea to keep in mind. While many people struggle with the isolation of sheltering-in-place, those with Autism welcome it. They are drawn to the calming effect of isolation, the security of knowing what will happen tomorrow and the day after, and the peace of mind that predictability offers. One man I know, after sheltering for six weeks, commented on how happy and content he is while everyone else appears increasingly edgy and restless as their daily isolation proceeds. “It’s odd to see them experience the same turmoil I do for very different reasons. I’m happy not having to deal with people all the time but they aren’t. Things have turned upside down.”
Please keep in mind this reflection on how predictability, order, sameness and, yes, isolation can, and often does, make sense to someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The next time you feel the urge to pull someone on the spectrum out of the safety of his or her aloneness, remember Henry David Thoreau’s words, “I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”