Managing Change and Autism: When There’s No ‘Back to Normal’

I returned to work after a four-week baby leave, thinking I’d re-adjust to my gig and get back to normal.

That didn’t happen.

“This is why I don’t take time off work, ever, for any reason, for any length of time,” I joked.

For obvious national security reasons, I’m going light on details, but I returned to a flurry of changes whirlwinding me under a new team, new manager, a new direction on my role (possibly), and maybe a new role altogether.

You know how much I love change.

As an autistic professional—an autistic person—this was a bit to process.

When change happens to you, it’s tough enough for neurotypical people. With autism, those effects amplify. They blast the hyperintrospective signals from sound to screech. They’re pitched at you like a taut fastball of steely twine that you at once try to untangle all while trying to recover from the shock.

It made for a week.

Routine and repetition are autistic foundations. We can operate through a lot of intraday and day-to-day stress. Having the same job, customers, tasks, people, and environment — that helps. I know where to go when things go sideways. I (usually) know what I’m doing as my day job, whether it’s tough sledding or downhill skiing.

But what about when that all changes on you?

It’s not easy, but here are some things that made it easier.

Advanced notice. I found out ahead of time, with ample time. That helped drain out a lot of the anxiety and unknowns with space to spare.

Sequencing. This was a complex move, and I didn’t find out everything all at once. While it was a lot to work through at each step, the bite-sized chunks were manageable.

Explaining the ‘why.’ I felt like this happened against me at first, but it helped to learn the logic and the why behind the change. Everyone was open, and it helped fill in the unknowns without me spinning off the track.

Talking out all the angles. This was the catharsis. I had to go beyond trite things like “look on the bright side.” That doesn’t help. What does help is looking on both the bright and the dark sides, to balance that holistic landscape, to acknowledge both the positives and negatives, and then to navigate the new landscape with a good understanding of all the landmarks.

Believe it or not, this kind of thing has happened before. I didn’t handle it well then.

I do better now.

I’m interested to hear if you’ve had to handle similar: whether you’ve had to make the change, or whether the change made you.

As always, thanks for stopping by! This was an interesting reflection for me to share, so I hope it was worth the few minutes of your time. If you want to learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic – or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks!

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