It is a limiting and unfair belief that all autistics are introverts.
Kerry Magro, autistic best-selling author, and award-winner speaker shares his pain point:
“Some people still think that autistic people can’t be social or outgoing.
It drives me CRAZY.
I know what you’re thinking. Autism is a social and communication disorder so wouldn’t everyone who has autism be introverts?”
Can a person be autistic and also be outgoing?
The short answer is yes, but in support of our autistic community, there is much more to it.
Definition of Introvert and Extrovert
The terms introvert and extrovert are popular in today’s culture and typically are applied when describing a person’s social behavior.
The definition of these words, however, per Merriam-Webster, gives us deeper clarity:
Introvert: “a person whose personality is characterized by introversion: a typically reserved or quiet person who tends to be introspective and enjoys spending time alone
… introverts gain energy through solitude and quiet. – Bill Howatt
… research further shows that about 70% of top executives are introverts. – Linda Grant
Bill Gates is quiet and bookish, but apparently unfazed by other’s opinions of him; he’s an introvert, but not shy. – Steven Atchison.”
Extrovert: “a person whose personality is characterized by extroversion: a typically gregarious and unreserved person who enjoys and seeks out social interaction
Extroverts are more recognized because of their affable nature, while introverts struggle to break out of their personal space … – Helen Wu.”
Personality Characteristics are Unique to Every Person
Personality characteristics are unique to all individuals, whether they are neurodivergent or not.
An autistic person may enjoy and re-energize when spending time alone – which is characteristic of an introverted personality, autistic or not.
An autistic person may also gain much energy when spending time socializing with people – which is characteristic of an extroverted personality, autistic or not.
Kerry Magro went on to say:
“As I started speaking in complete sentences at 7, conversations and friendships were easier to build on allowing me to realize how extroverted I wanted to become.
By high school, I fully embraced being an autistic extrovert. Even today as an adult, I’ve made a career as a public speaker and, in my personal life, would consider myself very outgoing.
I know I’m not alone either. Along my journey, I’ve met others on the spectrum who have also expressed being extroverts.
There are some challenging times though when I still struggle with things like mindblindness; being able to understand the perspectives of others.
I can also feel burnout when I’m in social situations for long periods of time.
Other times I may come off intense because, especially when I’m meeting somebody for the first time, I’m unsure if I’m being too talky.”
Why Autistics are Labeled with Introversion
The fact is, autistic people are introverted, extroverted, and everything in-between.
Personality types vary just as much as they do in the non-autistic population.
Related: Can You Have Autism and Empathy?
Some of the common struggles in autistics, however, lead to false labeling.
- Autistics can feel discouraged and disengaged as a result of social challenges, and this can look like introversion.
- Autistics can have difficulty processing conversations and social interactions, and this can look like a lack of desire to interact, which people misconstrue as introversion.
- Autistics may avoid making eye contact when speaking with others, and this can look like introversion, despite the autistic person’s desire to be involved in the conversation.
- Autistics may avoid physical contact, like hugging, and this is often mistaken and mislabeled as anti-social and introversion, even though sensory issues are common to autism – and they have nothing to do with having reserved personality characteristics.
RDI®’s Focus Breaks the Labeling
Steven E. Gutstein, Ph.D., RDI® Chief Executive Officer, states:
“Some (people with autism) are more people persons and they just love being around people. Some are less. Like anyone else, some are introverted, extroverted, and they figure out who they are as human beings…That’s not a really good definition for them.”
What is important in definition and development, though, is Dr. Gutstein’s Six Areas of Dynamic Intelligence – emotional referencing, social coordination, declarative language, flexible thinking, relational information processing, and foresight and hindsight.
These are the areas of development and mental resources that enable autistic people “to overcome the diverse challenges presented by complex, dynamic environments – situations in which information overload, unpredictable change, unclarity and ambiguity are expected to be the norm.”
Struggles with “the norm” do not have to result in false labeling (such as introversion)…they only need to be understood!
“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.” – Susan Cain
Resources for Education, Connection, and Support
You are not alone in this journey.
Whether you are new to the world of autism or have spent years trying to find answers, we can put you in touch with the resources and people to help you move forward.
If you’d like to talk to RDI® professionals, parents, and adults on the spectrum, join our online learning community.