When Autistic Routines Bend, then Break | Going to the Mattresses with Stressors

There’s only so much I can manage. And at that point, I can only hope to bend my furthest without breaking.

Unlike everyone else on the planet, I don’t look forward to three day weekends or holidays. And it’s sad, because I genuinely enjoy what I have to look forward to — truly!

But the routine break can be backbreaking.

Lemme explain this autistic trait of routine. Routine and repetition are our R&R — we thrive on predictability, reducing the mental load in adapting, and being able to “opt in” and commit in environments that mostly remain undisturbed.

So when we hit structural changes to this routine, it’s tough sledding.

This weekend, instead of hauling off to church, we instead bought the girls their new bunk beds, grilled outdoors, disassembled beds, stored beds, assembled new ones, bought new mattresses, made up the beds, and then-whew-done.

It doesn’t sound hard. But when all of that runs counter to the rank-and-file Sunday/Monday combo, it becomes hard.

Mind you, I adapt and stretch the best I can — in my mind I chalk out the outline of the day (build beds, make beds, store beds, lift things), but as soon as something falls outside of that outline, yikes.

And that happened :/

I have to draw a line between my autism and my generally-acerbic expressions, and this weekend was more of the latter. Due to my own error, I ended up having to add some extra steps outside that chalk outline and just ended the day incensed, angry, and short-tempered.

So close, H2 — so close to accounting for everything, but just short enough to light off my fuse.

That was the story: what should have been a “yay party omg labordayvibes” weekend became a sweet memory turned sour by my own rigidity and bending just a little too far and breaking.

My advice to my autistic self?

Make that chalk outline bigger.

Give a wider berth to disruptions.

And don’t buy used mattresses.

Hope your three-day weekend went well! I’ll do better on my next one. To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks!

Oh, and if you like words and videos, you’ll LOVE The Life Autistic on YouTube! New episode:

Managing Meltdowns: When Autistic Strengths meet Autistic Weaknesses

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“Hunter, this isn’t working.”

Yeah, I’m having the same issue.”

Same here.”

Uh oh.

This may surprise you, but I get tapped for presentations pretty regularly. I’ve gotten good at it over time, and—bizarrely—get great feedback on my presence, style, and humor for hosting over video conferences. I guess if you do something often enough, you skill up to survive.

After doing this one presentation nearly a dozen times, it’s finally gotten “natural.” This is a great feeling for us autistic people: it’s predictable, successful, engaging, and elemental.

Me being me, I plan and plan again — what could go wrong? what can go right? what if A, B, C, X, Y, Z happens? But planning is exhausting: I can’t draw a new map for each scenario, just a “general direction.”

This last Monday, this latest presentation had been going smoothly.

Had.

Until my audience came to my resource and . . . it was broken.

Yikes.

The participant chats rolled in.

My brain scrambled.

Some said they thought it worked.

Others couldn’t get it working.

I have a backup for this, I thought. But not for when it’s half working. What do we do here? How much time do I have? What about the last activity?

My inner monologue ran straight off the monorail and into meltdown territory. Mind you all, I’m on camera — LIVE — this entire time.

But, mirabile dictu, I managed to un-meltdown — how?

Masking for so long to “unfortunate expert” levels. My only public face is the ‘game face’ — so even at my worst, I’ve gotten so used to ‘telegraphing’ emotions by intent. Of course I felt rattled, but I’ve spent hours being rattled and looking placid or being something and looking like something else.

Practice “pre-framing” the Plan B as the Plan A. Things fall apart, and it’s hard to cope. I’ve a few posts I want to do about this, but mentally, I’ve had to practice these “backup plan” scenarios. The key challenge is thinking about that as “the plan all along” and convincing myself that this was the design.

Rent space ahead. I couldn’t dissolve my anxiety internally, but I managed to “act” my way through it — knowing that I’d be able to exhale and process this within a few minutes. I rented that time in advance to will myself along until I could bail off camera and bleed the tension out.

At the debrief, I had my joke ready:

“I’m glad I’ve grown out my hair, because I have plenty left to spare after pulling it out after my session!”

They said I recovered extremely well and that I’m “such a natural” presenter.

And that’s The Life Autistic in a nutshell: natural, unnaturally. 

Not all of the stories are successes. But I’m glad this one was. To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks!

Courage and Autism: Being “A Little More Brave”

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My oldest daughter started Kindergarten this week. She’d been excited all summer, up until the night before.

“I just want to stay home and be a baby a little bit longer,” she confessed.

I handed her the bottle I was using for Jo, the baby. She demurred. Being a baby doesn’t have the advantages she thinks it does.

But we talked about this transition, this pivotal episode.

I remembered my own first day of Kindergarten, as an undiagnosed autistic boy, whose precociousness and vocabulary would—my parents hoped—account for the myriad social struggles I faced at a young age.

The round, domed classroom had us all in quadrants, each in little collective groups of four, seated together under cold lights cascading harsh on muted colors.

I told Mo the story of how I wasn’t brave. 

The anxiety kicked in early. I was kicked out of preschool at first, so my organized schooling always began auspiciously.

I missed my parents, my routines; the alien environment began to creep into the loose-knit fabrics of my courage and unravel them.

But there was Irene.

Inconsolable.

Irene didn’t seem to be handling this well. I didn’t know her. But she was bawling, crying,   shaking. Her quaking little fear scared me. I didn’t know how to react.

It must have scared the teachers too – she was soon taken out of the class.

“I never saw Irene again,” I told Mo. “I don’t what happened to her. I wasn’t the bravest in my class, and I was just as scared, but I was just a little more brave that day.

A little more brave.

Did I know what I was back in Kindergarten? Did anyone? No.

Did I know I’d be facing some of the first of many challenges in my autistic childhood? No.

Did I ever think I’d share this story to my own future kindergartner? No.

Was I the bravest in this new little world? Hardly.

Mo did great; she’s amazing and far better at life at 5 than I was at 10. Typical neurotypical :p

I’ve come a long way myself — where even as an autistic adult, I don’t aspire to be the most courageous. Because I can’t. Or the most daring. I’d rather not.

So what’s the next best thing, to press up against the worrisome edges of anxious moments, to extend the borders of what I can feel is possible, doable?

Being a little more brave.

Courage is forged in the little things, even if they feel “big.” There’s a lot of little-big things in autism. To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks!