What Girls' Night Out Is Like When You're An Autistic Mom


Living in a world where we often believe things because we can see them makes it all the more difficult to navigate and to be accommodated for when your disability is invisible. And that’s the thing, my disability is an invisible one, and one that often lends itself to loneliness as a result. I am an autistic mother who enjoys a girls night out on a rare occasion if it’s within the context of a group of girlfriends, but who often thrives on one-on-one time instead.

It’s a funny thing to know the world perceives you in a way because of your outward appearance. Do I “dress the part” for social gatherings with girlfriends? Yes, though I would say I have a specific aesthetic, but my friends embrace that. Do I genuinely enjoy human interaction? Well, yes very much but not in ways that are common for my girlfriends who are neurotypical.

As is common for individuals on the autism spectrum, I do not enjoy small talk. To many, it can often feel forced and unnatural, and while that is true to some extent for me, the main reason is that I feel completely alone if my night out consisted of me engaging in only small talk with a group of friends. It almost pushes me into an existential crisis: Is this all there is in life? The typical questions, “How are the kids?”, “What lip gloss are you wearing?”, and the ubiquitous, “How are you?” I mean, when I’m asked how I’m doing, I have no idea how to respond in a group setting. Can I share that multiple emotions are coexisting at the moment and that I’m kicking serious ass in one area of life that I’m proud of, and at the same time also completely being swallowed up by an irrational fear? Is that what they call “socially acceptable?”

The data I’ve gathered from girls night out is that you should probably share quick and positive things and keep sipping on that cocktail, in my case, any gin-based drink. First off, it is so loud at the bar that hearing one another is nearly impossible. That type of loudness is loved by my neurology when I’m at a live music event, but the ways in which my senses process loud noise in other settings is not very pleasant; the competing loud noises get to me..You’re expected to vibe with the music while also carrying on small talk with friends all while blocking out extraneous other sounds. It’s not focused. What I end up doing is projecting my voice so I can hopefully be heard over all the other noise and making sure I’ve spoken with each girlfriend present. My go to statements: “It’s so good to see you” (it really is) and “How are you doing?” (totally open to an in-depth heart spill but knowing it will be a surface response). I do this for a couple of hours and then I go home. I go home exhausted, ears in pain from the noise, and heavily lonely.

My friends know this. They know this because I have told them that in order for me to feel connected and not alone, I have to have one-on-one time. One of my special interests as an autistic female is people — deeper than that, connection. Fascinating right? Did anyone else besides me grow up thinking to be autistic means you prefer to be alone and “in your own world”? If society could kindly squash that myth, the entire autistic community would be far better for it. Believe me, yes, I need and love my solitude, but I would not survive without being able to share space and connect with others. You’d think being in a group of girlfriends would mean I’m immersed in connection, but for me, it has to be deep and vulnerable to feel part of it all.

And get this, one of the most integral autistic traits I have is hyper empathy. I am able to enter a room and to literally feel the emotions of others. When I’m around my friends, even if their words and facial expressions are expressing one thing, I can sense when there is more there but they’re holding back. It’s as if my brain has an emotional processor embedded in it that sounds alarms when emotions of pure elation, fear or sadness are present in another.

The key here is that I’ve expressed this to my closest friends, and they have taken time to understand that connection is what is most important to me in order to not feel alone. Activities I enjoy that make me feel connected are simple one-on-one walks in the city, dinner dates, midday coffee and simply hanging out at one another’s homes while making granola or lounging on the couch and chatting for hours. These activities are not loud in the slightest, and they leave me feeling incredibly connected.

I can and will work on determining if I have the capacity to endure a Girls Night Out when I know it will be a bit trying and leave me a bit empty. Perhaps I’ll say no to the next one I’m invited to and see how I feel. Perhaps I’ll ask if I could have a single drink with one of the girlfriends before heading out to get that desired connection—to fill up on what I need and to stave off the foreshadowed loneliness of a Girls Night Out. And perhaps I’ll bring some noise canceling headphones.

Meg Raby is a mom, children’s author of the My Brother Otto series, and Autistic residing in Salt Lake City, where you can find her playing and working with neurodivergent children as a Speech Language Pathologist and friend, or writing and planning big things in the second booth at her local coffee shop that overlooks the Wasatch Mountains while sipping on her Americano. Meg believes the essence of life is to understand, love and welcome others (aka, to give a damn about humans).



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