This semester I am doing a uni subject on Leisure, Disability and Arts. This is our first week and we were asked to complete an activity (The Allan G Roeher Institute, 1989). Without looking at the word count for the activity I wrote a 950 (ish) word reflection which I'm sharing below. After writing it I realised we had been given a word limit of 250-300 words. Rather than waste what I had written I decided to share the full reflection here.
Leisure for me is about feeling safe and relaxed and it’s important that what I’m doing makes me feel connected either to others or to something bigger than myself through a greater sense of purpose.
The most important thing about leisure for me is a sense of purpose. I feel disconnected from a sense of identity without feeling like I’m connected to others through something I am passionate about. I easily become bored with activities that I cannot find this kind of connection in.
Things like watching TV are more about disconnecting than connecting for me. They can help me to recharge, or fill in the loneliness or emptiness around me with background noise. This leads into my second and third highest needs which are to "be totally involved in something" and to "have others around" (The Allan G Roeher Institute, p.13). The fact I really enjoy being totally immersed in what I’m doing can sometimes be at odds with my desire to be around others because I can zone out and lose track of what people are saying or doing around me pretty easily. This isn’t because I am uninterested but I am not always able to attend to a whole lot of different things around me at once. I like to do things well, and to not have to focus on a bunch of things I need to get just right in order to be okay and be accepted.
I often experience a kind of inner conflict between my desire to spend time with others and the need to spend time alone to recharge. While I spend a lot of time alone, a lot of that is to be able to cope well with spending time with others. I only have a finite amount of energy and concentration to give and executive functioning issues related to my being Autistic mean that I can deplete this energy and exceed the number of things I can concentrate on a lot more quickly than others are usually willing to believe.
When spending time with others in a recreational or leisure kind of setting I need to feel like I’m not just in the presence of others but am actually connected to them. That connection also needs to be secure enough that I don’t feel like I’m only one mistake or awkward moment away from the connection being broken.
The other leisure needs from the activity that I most related to were:
- "Do something meaningful to me"
- "Make and carry out plans"
- "Be creative"
- "Share interests with others"
- "Try my own methods of doing things"
- "Be respected"
- "Feel confident" (The Allan G Roeher Institute, pp.13-14)
Before completing the activity I was aware that I wasn’t really feeling fulfilled and the activity was useful in help me better understand what I feel and to be able describe that experience. In the past few months I have been trying to identify the source of the perpetual sense of loneliness and isolation that I experience. Those around me tend to either think that either:
- It’s my own fault for not making the most of every possible 'social' activity regardless of how inconvenient or impractical it is or how exhausted I am;
- That being lonely is not an acceptable response to my life circumstances and therefore I must be mentally ill and should just do to a doctor and get prescribed anti-depressants so I can stop bothering people, or;
- That being disconnected is an unavoidable consequence of being Autistic that I should just stop complaining about and move on from.
What I had identified from my reflections (prior to this activity) was that my sense of isolation sensed less from not spending enough time with people but a lack of a sense of purpose and that for me it was important to me to be connected to both things simultaneously. That is to be spending time with others where we are talking about or doing activities related to things that I care about. I have a strong sense of justice, and a strong dislike of people not accepting others or listening to them. This means that the activities that give me this sense of purpose don’t necessarily need to be overly impressive, but instead need to lead to people around me feeling connected and valued.
This knowledge is leading me to reassess my life circumstances, and the things that I consider to make my life fulfilled and successful. This activity, and more broadly the sense of theme in this week’s readings and lecture reminded me of a presentation I went to in September last year at the Asia Pacific Autism Conference in Brisbane. Dr. Peter Vermeulen (2015) from Belgium is interested in the topic of Autism and happiness. In his presentation he questioned the validity of the measures we typically use to assess quality of life with relation to Autistic individuals. He felt that the most important factor was the person’s well-being, which includes their own perception and experience of happiness, and that it was short sighted to only assess quality of life using indicators such as living independently and having a job. He suggested that it was entirely possible, and even likely, that an adult with Asperger’s who works in a relatively mundane job (which poorly matches their technical skills and intellect), lives independently and has been to university but does not feel fulfilled or meaningfully connected may actually experience a much lower quality of life than an Autistic individual with an intellectual disability who lives in a group home and very much enjoys their day option activities. Whilst this example is specific to Autism, I expect that it is also relevant to other disability groups and the broader community.
The Allan G Roeher Institute (1989). Leisure Connections. Ontario. The Allan G Roeher Institute.
Vermeulen, P. (Presenter). (2015, September 10). The Outcome of ASD in Adulthood: Time to Make a U-turn in Our Approach and Focus on Well-Being as a Desired Outcome. Asia Pacific Autism Conference.