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Changing Routines as a Person on the Autism Spectrum

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I have a tendency to live according to quite a strict routine. I always have some idea of what I am going to be doing over the course of a week. Sometimes one week is quite different from the next, but there are also a number of activities I will do routinely every week. I am quite happy living to my own routine; it feels more secure and helps me to reduce stress.

There can sometimes be issues if my routine is interrupted, though. I am a lot better with this than I used to be in the past, but it is still something I need to consider. More recently I have become more flexible and can sometimes be happy to do things with only a day’s notice, although it is still difficult if I already had a plan in place for that particular day. For the most part, I find it easier to leave each day as blank as possible because then it is easier to adjust the schedule. The most ideal situation for me is to be informed of anything I am going to be doing a least a few days in advance, preferably a week. That way, I know what to expect and will not feel stressed about any sudden changes.

In a lot of ways, even having routines is not entirely preferable. This is because as much as a routine can reduce stress, it can also bring it about. I find I sometimes have a list of things that I like to do day after day, and it can be irritating if for whatever reason I have to leave one thing out. There is no other way I would like to live, but still it is a fine balance. Rather than worrying about a change to routine, I may find myself worrying about my failure to complete my routine. This further emphasizes the importance of planning ahead.

If I know beforehand that I will be unable to complete my routine for a few days, it gives me a chance to get over it. I can justify it within my own mind and reassure myself. It is something that is important for me to remember, but it is also important for others to know. My family know how I work and know to warn me about things that are happening. Other people who do not know me so well may not realize the difficulty. It is another reason why it is important that people are well informed about any specific needs that may need to be considered. It makes it easier for everyone.

Going away from home for a long time is also a challenge. I do not like having to live in a different environment, and I am not much of a fan of communal living. I like people most of the time, but it is important for me to have my own space to process things that have happened through the day. When sharing a living space with a group of people in the past, the most common thing for me to do is get up early in the morning. This gives me time to prepare for the day and have a short while to sit by myself in silence. This may seem inconsiderate in some ways, but I have never had people complain about me making too much noise early in the morning. It gives me the time I need to think through the plan for that day. When traveling it is also something I can do every day of the trip. Even if the routine is different to the one that I follow at home, I find that any kind of routine can be comforting.

I am a lot more adaptable than in the past. There was a time where I would not be able to cope if I had a change of routine. I think I have moved past that by now, and even in a situation where the plan is changed, I find it a lot easier to go from one plan to the other. Still, I do like to know what I am going to be doing, to know how far key events are in the future, and I also like to have something of a timetable for the week. I like to know which days of the week I am working and which days are free days. Throughout a working day I also like to be told what I am going to be doing. It has at the point where it is not entirely essential; I am not going to get visibly angry with anyone or anything like that. It is still something I like people to be considerate of, though.

There are a number of things other people can do to help me. One of the key ones is telling me without relying on me to ask. Sometimes I may find it difficult to actually ask people what the plan is, so it is a lot easier if they simply tell me. This works well when planning a day out or a working day. It is also useful to have some kind of list of plans for the week that I can refer to at any time, such as a schedule that can easily be seen by anyone throughout the day. If there are changes of plan, then the key is to say so as soon as possible. Usually, I am quite happy for plans to change if is appropriately explained.

I think reliance on routines is always going to be something of a problem for me, but again it is a case of teamwork. I have been learning recently that it is not always effective to entirely rely on yourself in order to keep stress to a minimum. Sometimes it is a case of being honest and accepting that other people can do things in order to accommodate whatever needs you may have. I have been learning it is OK to accept help from other people with these things, and it also does not need to be difficult to ask for help. I hope this can be another step towards me accepting what I find difficult, and not having an issue letting people know about it.

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Getty image by Fizkes.

Originally published: December 10, 2017
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