Kit Smethurst, SEO specialist, Digital Marketer, freelance writer and blogger at Automated Autism, tells us about her experience of trying Scroll Free September to help manage some of the day to day effects of her Autism. 

I was sitting in front of Breakfast TV one morning last week, bleary eyed and trying to wake myself up with my usual bowl of porridge and cuppa. 

One eye was on the telly, the other on my phone as I casually checked Facebook, then Twitter, then Instagram. Something piqued my interest as the hosts of BBC Breakfast news, Dan and Louise mentioned Scroll Free September. I looked up from my second scroll through Facebook and started to properly listen to the segment. 

Being encouraged to log off from all social media sites for an entire month - were they barking mad? You might as well just cut my right arm off now and bash me with the wet end. No way could I imagine doing that! I needed my daily scroll through these sites to...

Hang on - why exactly did I need them? When I started to think about it seriously, I couldn’t come up with a genuine reason why I had to spend so much time each day idly flicking through Facebook. 

Did I really need to know what someone I went to primary school with thirty years ago had for their dinner? 

Was it imperative that I read another click bait article that would “warm my heart”? 

How many more status updates from people fishing for sympathy was it important I was exposed to without flipping my lid?

The answer is ‘less than none’.

I thought about it carefully over the next day or so and decided to examine how much time I was spending on these sites. Without giving specific figures, the result was that I worked out it was ‘way more than is necessary’. It was often done as force of habit, or as part of a routine, or just out of sheer boredom. 

The routine part of using social media is easy to explain. You see, two and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with high functioning autism. I’d lived for thirty-six years wondering why I didn’t fit in properly.

Not understanding why socialising exhausted me to the extent that a couple of hours out and about would require two days to recover. Why it didn’t take much in the way of noise, light or general day to day living to become very over stimulated and burn out. 

My autistic brain

The way I would describe my brain is that it’s like a smartphone. When I was a new born baby, it was brand new, shiny and able to cope with everything that was thrown at it. 

Over time though, it started to slow down and become less efficient. It’s processor became less adept at dealing with vast amounts of data and messaging. It required more and more recharging to get it to function normally. 

Then…every so often it stops working for a while and shuts down, needing to be repaired. It might need a new battery or some other component replacing. It works again, but never quite at full capacity and the cycle continues like this indefinitely. 

For me to get through each day, and for me to try and ‘fit in’ I have to work at least 75% harder as I have no real in built auto-pilot. Everything I do, whether it’s making a cup of tea, or going out for a meal with family, requires constant chatter in my head, talking myself through every stage as I go. That alone is enough to lead to burn out, before you’ve factored in anything else, like completing any tasks, or leaving the house, or being social.

Anything you can do, as a person with ASD, to minimise burn out and over stimulation is a good thing. Which is why I wondered if taking part in Scroll Free September would work for me. 

Striking the balance

Sometimes, social media is a real force for good. It can get you through bad times, when you feel you don’t want to carry on any more. It can provide laughs, companionship and support. 

The downside of it is that sometimes it’s way too stimulating. There’s too much going on. Too much noise. Too much light. Too much colour. Too much to read and take in that you feel you’ll never be able to get through it all. 

I felt there needed to be more balance for me. So, I decided to take the plunge and see how I got on with simply trying the Night Owl option for the month. No Facebook/Twitter or Instagram after 6pm. We are five days in and I’ve successfully managed it so far, and what’s more, I haven’t missed it. 

Further, whilst I haven’t gone completely cold turkey I haven’t felt the need to check these sites at other times of the day, either. So, I just haven’t. I’ve tended to have a very quick look first thing in the morning. Again, during my lunch break and then leave it totally till the next day. I guess what started out as ‘I’m NOT going cold turkey’ has become ‘more or less slightly re-heated turkey with a bit of gravy for interest’. 

I’ve felt less over stimulated, and a little more able to switch off at night. It’s lovely to be able to sit and watch a programme on TV and have my phone turned over at the side of me.

I’ve turned all my notifications off and my phone doesn’t make a sound. It’s lovely. It’s peaceful and it feels like I should have done it a long time ago. My brain is, so far, thanking me for it. 

I’ll never come off social media sites totally. They are the only way I can keep in touch with certain groups of people I am close to and would miss dearly. Being away and having an enforced period of downtime is helping me refocus.

I’m not saying this would be the same for everyone who has ASD, but it’s certainly my experience. If it helps one other person then that’s a good thing too.