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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Changing Routines: The Autistic Survival Guide to Interruptions & Disruptions

As an autistic child, I had a hard time with interruptions to my daily routine. As an autistic adult, I still do.

Last Friday, Mrs. H2 cracked open my office door. In her hands, she held our infant, struggling with a midday fuss. Beyond that din, I heard my other two daughters in a tussle downstairs.

“You’re going to hate me for saying this,” she warned. “Can you just not work out today?”

The situational, emotional, and programmatic ingredients in me commingled to a quickening, caustic burn — searing tendrils ran up my shoulders, tensing me in paralyzed impossibility. 

No matter how we want to act, we cannot undo how we feel.

I kicked my rationalizing into high gear (situational needs, emotional pleas, upcoming parties, compressed timeframes) to try to beat back the blaze against my routine pillars (I always work out at this time, I’ve already eaten to work out, my new weights just arrived) — but it was hard.

It is hard to just “pivot” and go with the flow, even when you have to. Even when you need to. And I’m not talking to you and your autistic children here — I’m an extremely rational, hard-working, hyperintrospective, mostly unselfish, grown adult. And it’s still hard. And if this is the thing that seems small and trite to you, then welcome to The Life Autistic, folks!

If you need to make a routine zag happen when you’re 99.9% ready to zig, here’s the best I’ve got:

Brace for impact. I do have to give Mrs. H2 credit: she knows I’m going to react poorly to change. I wish it were easier for me, but at least I know it’s coming, and I can start downshifting those gears and grinding them midstream.

Work through the reaction. I’m reminded of a great New Testament parable that states this well. Nine times out of ten, I’m going to react with a “No.” But when the dust settles, and I can work through that reaction, it’s easier for me to get onto action. Please just be ready for that reactive, gut-instinct no and give us room to relent.

Give us room to navigate. If you want to know how my story played out:

  1. I reacted poorly.
  2. I felt bad.
  3. It was bad for a bit.
  4. I settled down and didn’t work out during my hour.
  5. I helped watch the kids and lull the baby to sleep.
  6. Mrs. H2 was freed up to get cakes made for a party.
  7. I worked out later in the day.
  8. The party turned out great.
  9. The end.

I just assumed it wasn’t “ok” to work out, rather than reframe it as “Is there something I can help with to where I can still adjust my routine without abandoning it entirely?” When I have the room and leeway and agency to adjust, I can manage. 

Did you know: I’m autistic, and I am still learning more about this every day. It’s not easy living it, but it’s a lot to learn from. To discover 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!