Writer and broadcaster

I’m 23 and would rather stay at home than socialise. Am I autistic? The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

I’ve always struggled socially but even now, as a 23-year-old man, I feel under so much pressure not just from my parents, but from everyone else to be “better” around others and just be more “normal”.

It has been said many times over the years that I appear to fit the autistic spectrum (not proven, however) and maybe that was the reason I couldn’t hack it at university, barely lasting a week before leaving.

I am in work though and earning a little, paying my share of things including helping with the mortgage payments every now and then, but I get the feeling that that isn’t enough. I’m not in a relationship – never have been, to be blunt – and have never felt that way about anyone. Is that my fault? Probably, but it doesn’t help that I hear my parents chatting among themselves that they wish I’d at least be looking for someone; show an interest, something …

It’s not just that, though. They want me to go out and socialise but I don’t at all. I go to work, come home and stay there. I don’t have any friends other than my best friend, who I’ve known since I was six, but he’s at university and I haven’t seen him for nearly four years now, although we message online from time to time. Socialising has always been a struggle and now it’s coming to a point where I wonder what I can do. I struggle to trust people and that stemmed from the bullying I suffered throughout my school days and that lack of trusting is really starting to get to me.

In a way I do fear going outside. Obviously I have to go out to go to work, but stay inside the rest of the time, even when I’m off work. I don’t feel comfortable outside the home and it’s there that the pressure heaps on me. My parents want me to go out but I don’t feel like I can. Quitting university was the lowest I’ve ever felt and I don’t know if I’ve ever recovered from it – that was over four years ago.

I portray that I’m OK to the outside world but deep down I’m struggling most days. I feel low a lot of the time, watching TV and playing on the Sims to take my mind off things. I understand why my parents want me to be with someone, show an interest or go out and socialise, but it’s a pressure I cannot cope with. I’m on a low that I don’t think I can get out of.

It’s amazing that you’ve got in touch, that’s a real positive, as is the fact that you work.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being an introvert: they are as much part of the world as extroverts, who seem to get all the praise and all the social badges. I wonder how much of this is that you are unhappy – I note you said you are low – or are you basically OK but unhappy because everyone else thinks you should conform to some idea of what a 23-year-old should be doing, and that is what is making you feel wretched? Where do you feel most yourself? What makes you feel like you?

You may be autistic. I don’t know: sure, some of the things you say in your letter could hint at it, or they may be signs that you are depressed. Or both. What do you think? Do you feel you are autistic?

Have you ever tried to see anyone about how you feel? About possible autism and maybe your depression?

I’ve listed some links below to various autistic sites/resources that you can have a look at and see if any chime with you. Resources around the country are patchy (and you don’t say where you live) and I don’t want to insist you get a diagnosis unless you really want to, because even then you may not get one. That doesn’t change who you are. A diagnosis is really helpful for some people and not so much for others.

So, I don’t want to – can’t – label you, but you may find it useful to read up on autism a bit more. I have known lots of people who have struggled with bullying/university/life/socialising in general and they haven’t been autistic. That said, those with autism can find these things especially challenging.

Have you ever tried to see anyone about how you feel? About possible autism and maybe your depression? What about your GP? I know some can be great and some awful and as I said, resources are so varied. But if you haven’t been, it’s something you may want to consider.

Have you looked into local sources of counselling? Your GP may be able to refer you (there will probably be a waiting list). I have put some further links at the bottom of the column, which may help you.

I spoke to Caroline Hearst, an autism awareness consultant who edited the book Being Autistic. She thought you might benefit from looking into things such as AutScape (see below), which is an annual conference run for and by autistic people.

Please remember that there are many different types of “normal”.

Useful links and further reading:

Autism Matters (a site run by Caroline Hearst), which has a list of further resources at autismmatters.org.uk/resources.html
Neurotribes by Steve Silberman
The National Autistic Society (autism.org.uk) has some great resources as well as online forums.


This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 12 March 2016.