All about being spaced out (aka derp)

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Something i have been asked a few times is to explain what i mean by spaced out. Or as we often call it, “the Derp”. So thats the aim of this post. I’m going to talk about how i experience derp and try and give some examples of the type of derp I get and how it effects me and those around me.

As with anything autism, this is very bespoke to me. It will be different for other people on the spectrum.

What is Derp.

In a nutshell, derp is how i describe the periods when i am spaced out or otherwise not entirely with it. Derp has many forms, ranging from totally spaced out, terrified and curled up in a ball, through too being very happy, bouncy and hyper.

Derp can occur at any time. I do have some tools to resist derp, but generally speaking the more i fight it the worse it gets.

Derp tends to be triggered. If i am tired, or if i am overwhelmed by something (social, sensory or emotional) then i tend to get derpy and spaced out.

I see derp as my body telling me i am pushing to hard. Its like an inbuilt safety mechanism. I can sometimes push through the derp, but the cost of doing so is high. Ranging from much worse derp later, to the loss off speech and even panic attacks if I am not careful.

My relationship with derp mirrors my acceptance of the autism. When i am not accepting of the autism (or around others who don’t accept the autism) then the derp is upsetting. I feel angry and frustrated about it. At these times it can often feel that being derpy is being “naughty” or bad. Almost like i have a requirement to always without fail be as functional as possible no matter the cost.

At times when i am more accepting or with others who are more accepting i am derpier for sure. However, its a nicer, gentle derp which is good

Fundamentally derp is the same either way. Its my reaction to it which dictates if it is “good derp” or “bad derp”.

Bad Derp.

Derp is bad when it is unwanted or happening where i don’t feel safe. Getting spaced out and unable to walk properly in the middle of Tesco’s is a good example bad derp. It brings out the most frustration. It can feel like my body is not doing what i tell it to do. Bad derp, around people who don’t accept the autism leads to the worst feelings. I just end up feeling stupid, useless, and generally like a bad person. I can’t stop the derp. I just feel worse about it.

Derp where i don’t feel safe can often turn into massive amounts of anxiety which can lead to a panic attack or meltdown as i struggle for control.

Good Derp.

Good derp is way more interesting. If i am somewhere safe, with those who accept the autism side of things i can experience really good derp. This is when it is fun, relaxing and nice.

For example, i tend to get quite spaced out and derpy when we go on holiday to centre parks. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken at a centre parks holiday. I get super spaced out. But i also relax, and get bouncy and happy.

Good derp can also be accidental. Last night i was suppose to cycle to my friends house after the babysitter left at 7pm. However, while the babysitter was visiting i ended up getting really derpy due to an accidental sensory overload. Whoops.

I fought the derp and felt terrible for a while, but once it become clear i wasn’t going to beat the derp and make the bike ride i relaxed and got really happy and bouncy.

Good derp leads to fun adventure. Going to the zoo and taking the buggy is a good example of time when we have encouraged “good derp”. We accepted i was going to be spaced out. Rather than see it as a bad thing we just made plans around it. The buggy is AMAZING for this. It was a time when i didn’t feel like i was a bad person for being spaced out. I enjoyed the trip way more… so did the friends i went with. I stopped feeling guilty.

The battle of derp.

I can’t be derpy all the time and nor do i want to be. But i also need derp as a time to relax and process the world. So the battle is too have derp at the right times. I struggle when i am home alone because i know i can’t get derpy. Derpy while home alone is the worst of bad derp. It is not safe and it results in me getting hurt.

This is why time with support (aka the babysitter) is so important. By having someone visit and make me feel safe i can let some of the derp out and relax.

Its taking time for me to get comfortable allowing the derp out around the babysitter but I think were doing well. I would much rather be derpy and spaced out, but happy and having fun (e.g. going to the park, or making cakes!) than stuck in my room, feeling huge amounts of anxiety as i try and fight the derp for the sake of “normality” and in doing so just waste the chance for a relaxed and fun time.

I am learning to accept the derp. Its a challenge. Decades of being told that i needed to be normal is hard to undo. However with my experiences in the last year i have been forced to face the autism head on. With that in mind, i choose to do so while embracing it. I can’t make all derp good. But i can definitely reduce the periods of bad derp and look to make derpy time, good time.


Spaced Out & Smiling is about exploring the fun side of Autism, and trying to understand what it means to be Autistically Happy.

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