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!

 

 

 

 

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!