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!