This blog post will talk about the social battery when it comes to people on the autistic spectrum. To put it simply, the social battery is the amount of energy people have to deal with certain social situations and situations that require interacting with others. You can think of the social battery in the way you think about the battery on a phone on a laptop, in that it can become low when used a lot but can also be recharged. A good number of people on the autistic spectrum find social situations challenging in some way of the other, and a lot of this links to the social battery which I will discuss in this blog post.
When you think about the social battery, you might think that it only applies for social events or interactions. However, for a good number of people on the autistic spectrum, it is more than that. Often the events leading up to the social interaction/event can play a part in draining the social battery. For example, thinking about what to wear, planning how to get to the social event and the commute to the social event itself can all drain the social battery. People on the autistic spectrum may need time afterwards to recover and recharge their social battery.
When it comes to the actual social event/interaction itself, there are several factors that can cause the social battery to drain for people on the autistic spectrum. One such factor is sensory overload, which happens when there are too many stimuli in your environment and your brain simply becomes overwhelmed. Examples of where this can happen in social situations includes when there are loud noises, lots of people, or even bright and fluorescent lighting. Another factor is masking, which I have talked about a lot in previous blogs. Autistic masking can be seen as a survival strategy for autistic people to mimic neurotypical behaviours in social situations. Masking for a long period of time in a social setting can be exhausting and can drain the social battery very quickly. It is important to note that if the social battery drains very fast or gets to a very low level then it can take a while to mentally recover from.
It is important to note that outside the social battery, we all have other responsibilities to fit in such as work and family commitments. Therefore, depleting the social battery in the long term can also have a knock-on effect in other aspects of life. When it comes to finding a way to protect the social battery in the long term, there are several good strategies that can help people on the autistic spectrum. For me, the main thing I do is to try and be realistic with how much social events I can take on and try not to have so many social things planned in such a short space of time. With Covid restrictions effectively fully eased in the UK, there is a temptation to try and do absolutely everything when it comes to social events. However, I am very prone to burnout if I try to do absolutely everything as I won’t have enough rest time. Therefore, I try to space out my social calendar as much as possible so that I am not committing too much in an extremely short space of time.
For friends, work colleagues or others that know someone on the autistic spectrum, being aware of the fact that social situations can be challenging at times for them due to the social battery is important. However, everyone on the autistic spectrum is different and therefore the things that drain the social battery will vary from person to person. Therefore, it is important to speak to the person on the autistic spectrum to find out what drains their social battery, and try to accommodate for this wherever possible. In the workplace, this can be done by making them feel comfortable in speaking out whenever they feel their social battery is low. The same can be done within friendship groups.
In my opinion, the social battery is one of the harder topics to understand when it comes to the autistic spectrum, especially as it affects everyone on the spectrum so differently. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you are a friend, family member or work colleague to someone on the autistic spectrum, it’s worth asking them the things that drains their energy when it comes to social situations and what helps them recharge. For people on the autistic spectrum, it is important to reflect on the things that drain and recharge your social battery and how you can best manage your social battery in the long run.