I’ve heard some parents of autistic children mention that their child stares into space, sometimes for long periods of time, usually without saying anything.
I was one of those Aspergian/autistic children. And I did this.
Now I’m an Aspergian/autistic adult. And I still do this.
I won’t claim to speak for your child, nor any other autistic person, no matter what their age. As usual, I can only speak for myself.
And today, true to form, I will .
What was I thinking about when I was staring into space?
As a child, I would stare at my dinner plate, imagining that the plate was the surface of another world. I would imagine what it would be like to inhabit that world. How there’s nothing to do, and how boring that must be. I did the same with the kitchen table surface, and throughout the span of my early childhood, practically all other surfaces, too.
I also analyzed the patterns, swirls, and direction of the grains of that wooden table, trying to make sense of nature’s randomness, trying to create order from chaos. This frustrated my brain, because I couldn’t quite achieve success. The chaos remained. So, I resorted to burning it into my head, committing it to memory. I found that to be more soothing.
As an adolescent and teenager, I would analyze my school day, mentally reviewing events and conversations and interactions in my mind. Trying to see if I did everything right. Agonizing over anything I did wrong. Editing my side of the conversation or my actions. Rewriting a better version instead. No longer under the gun of the immediate situation, being (finally) able to think of that perfect comeback in response to someone who made fun of me, or able to stand up for myself and say what I truly felt in situations involving unreasonable authority figures.
As an adult, I’ve left behind the morphing of table surfaces into other worlds, and I usually don’t have to endure a whole lot of bullying or teasing. But I still pick apart conflicts in my head, where there has been disagreement. Or I agonize over a clientele member’s case that I couldn’t solve. Or a clientele member who dropped out of care before I could truly help them. Or whether or not I hurt someone. Or a friend I had lost touch with…or simply lost.
Alternatively, I might ponder the nature of the universe and/or its creation/evolution (they’re often juxtaposed in mainstream society, but for me, they merge into one and the same). Or I might have an a-ha moment, regarding either my personal life and interests, or perhaps my professional life. I might have a sudden inspiration involving a creative or professional endeavor. I might decide to go to a conference, or to write a blog post. Or I might suddenly be struck with a passage of writing, an abstract art design/pattern or color scheme, or a hook of music, or a flash of long-forgotten memory.
We might not always be able to explain what we’re thinking or feeling when we stare into space in silence. Sometimes that’s because we can’t even identify it; other times, we can identify it just fine, but our spoken language might lack the words to describe it. (Spoken language is often clunky and archaic, not to mention horribly inefficient, after all.)
When we, the people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, do this, we’re processing. We’re dreaming. We’re inventing. We’re editing. We’re self-checking. We’re imagining. We’re creating. We’re analyzing. We’re trying to make sense of the world. We’re remembering. We’re theorizing. We’re connecting dots. We’re communing with a world beyond our physical realm. We’re taking time for ourselves. We’re enjoying silence. We’re reveling in Just Being.
The staring and the silence are nothing unhealthy or abnormal. They’re merely unusual (although, increasingly, we’re realizing that they’re not so unusual after all). They’re not pathological. They’re not “evidence” that we’re “lesser” or “broken”. They’re simply a fact of life for many of us. They don’t go away as we develop and age, but they may change form and/or function. They’re beautiful, though. I’m thoroughly convinced that they provide the source of numerous inventions and ideas that propel humanity forward through evolutionary stages and serve as the seed for the lion’s share of the dreams that become reality for the benefit of all.