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!

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Where Empathy in Autism Runs Deepest

My daughter has become a bit of a budding photographer, taking a knack to staging, shooting, and recording on her little digital camera.

It’s an adorable and sweet thing to watch as she catches these candids and slices of life; with this being a non-smartphone camera, it’s more observational and less “selfie-focused” (guilty).

What gets me are the videos. She’ll narrate and create these “shaky-cam” montages that hone in on goings-on in the family, beginning with the phrase “Hi, this is me, Madeline.” Already audience-aware — and if you’re following The Life Autistic on YouTube, you’ll see what I’m talking about. 😊

But as with all things digital, she finally had “a moment.”

Inevitably, she discovered that she harnessed both the power create and destroy. After a few too many clicks and menus, she mistakenly deleted a video. It wrecked her poor little heart.

While Mrs. H2 and I assured her that she had the video backed up, Mo remained bereft of consolation.

“But it’s not on my camera anymore,” she cried. “It’s gone and I wanted to watch it on my camera.”

In the moment I was probably too autistically factual and dismissive. It’s on my computer, I thought. It’s not gone. But as I spied her curled up on the cozy chair, sobbing, my heart took a different turn.

Leaning into my “strong-but-gentle dad” mode, I picked her up, cradled all of her nearly 4-foot frame (she’s a tall five year old!), then sat back down with her.

We both cried.

I’m not often as responsively empathetic to where I can both acknowledge and feel things so intently. But I found where those converge strongest in me:

When the sadness is unique.

I’ve been sad before over deleting things. Losing things that I can’t recover. Where I won’t have them in the way I used to enjoy them. Where others looked at me and didn’t understand. Where it wasn’t “normal” to be so upset over something that small.

So in that moment, as my arms wrapped around her, her new sadness profound – I remembered my specific sadnesses of old as well. She didn’t notice the small tear or two, but we spent that 20-second moment in a specifically empathetic embrace.

We autistic folks might have our challenges with empathy. Except when it’s perhaps at its most challenging and maybe misunderstood – it then runs its very deepest.

I’ve learned that my heart responds to misunderstood sadnesses; I’m grateful to be a uniquely empathetic autistic personTo 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!

Dealing with Loss: Autistic Reflections on Bereavement

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We had come back from visiting my grandparents, and I recall a phone call we had maybe a week later. I was seven years old.

Know how your parents would come ask you to “say hi” to whichever relative they had on the phone, as if you were able to have a cogent conversation with an adult? It was awkward. And because this was me, it was more awkward.

My grandparents said they missed me.

Me, being autistic me, related the best way I could.

“I remember you, but I don’t miss you.”

They kinda laughed, and I recall my parents saying, as if to emphasize for some punitive record, “Well, he remembers you.” They didn’t take me to task for that one, though I’m sure they considered calling an adoption agency or an extraterrestrial child rehoming service.

As of last week, both of my grandparents are now gone.

My grandpa died nearly 20 years ago, pretty much going to bed one night and not waking up the next. He was as sharp and clever, never having declined. Here one moment, and gone the next.

While I was shocked by the news, there just wasn’t that emotional crater I’d expected. With my grandparents living out of state, my day-to-day wasn’t as affected.

My grandma lived on for another two decades, albeit less and less so as the years passed. Until last week.

Having grown up on and around military bases and personnel, I wasn’t really accustomed to seeing people gradually decline in age, body, and mind. My most impactful memory was grandpa just *being gone* without cresting down a hill.

Seeing Grandma slide — and then hurtle — down that hill over the past 10+ years: it was a different experience altogether. One’s exit from life is not always endowed with swift, graceful passage.

When I read that Grandma died, I texted my mom back, went to work, and mostly trucked through my day.

There just wasn’t much of a reaction. That’s not because I’m autistically soulless and callous — anything but. We are creatures of routine, and we process things — even major things — through an architecture of our day-to-day. I was fortunate to have amazing grandparents, just not so much to where they were part of my day-to-day.

It’s sad that we suffer in many facets from this “difference in expectation,” but I hope to shed some light here: we are not going to react in the same emotional register as you will.

Grandma had been, in a way, long gone already.

In talking with my folks this weekend, I shared that the Grandma I knew — the one that went on LEGO shopping trips, baked English Muffin bread, took me suit shopping, taught me how to drive, and made for interesting dinnertime company  had passed long ago, and I’d made that peace and processed it already.

As I reflect, I think of my quote from earlier. I’d amend it for today.

“I remember you, and I do miss you, Grandma. I miss who you were. This is something I process differently than others do. I hope you understand. I’ll always remember you.”

This was a more personal reflection here; I would hope that it helps lend some grace and insight into how autistic people cope with loss and bereavement very differently than you may expect. 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.