Until recently, social isolation and health were not typically associated directly with one another. The tendency is to view health in categories. Physical health: related to eating nutritional foods and exercising. Mental health: related to the capacity to problem solve and answer questions quickly. Lastly, there’s emotional health. Recently people have begun to study the connection between mental health and physical health. The conclusion seems to be, the healthier the body, the easier it is for the brain to function, and vice versa. Sitting all day in a chair, for example, is as hard on the brain as the body. A healthy mind equals a healthy body.
Now, research indicates that emotional health is connected to the physical and mental health as well. In fact, a lack of social connection increases your odds of death by 50%. That is comparable to smoking. Social isolation is a greater risk factor for your health than obesity or diabetes. It carries the same risk for inflammation in the body as physical inactivity and is a greater risk for hypertension than diabetes. The research suggests close friends are as necessary for our well being as nutritious food, exercise, puzzles, fresh water, and air. People need to be healthy in all three categories to be truly well.
What about people with ASD? How does social isolation affect their health? The short answer is that they need to feel connected just as much as their general population peers. It is a myth that friendship and emotional connection is undesired among people with autism. In many cases, feelings can be so strong that a person with Autism withdraws to avoid being hurt by them, not because of a lack of emotion, as is the myth. Relationships with Aspies and Autistic people may need to be slightly different to allow for sensory challenges, but friends are still needed. If you are lucky enough to have a person with ASD as a friend you already know how invaluable their insights can be, and the strength of that relationship.
I will discuss the specifics of the effects of social isolation on people with ASD in my next post. If you are a person with ASD I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Rebecca J. Weaver is a Certified Autism Specialist at Independent with Autism, working to empower individuals with ASD. Need an assist with your emotional well- being? Check out IndependentwithAutism.com for more information.