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How the Spoon Theory Explains My Energy Levels as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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When I first became a self-advocate as someone on the autism spectrum, I was introduced to an article called “The Spoon Theory,” written by Christine Miserandino. It explained the concept of one’s personal energy level in terms of a tangible item. Once I understood the idea, I realized that I myself could relate to this concept, and began to share it with others. Friends and family could finally understand why I might have issues at times with finishing a conversation or completing daily tasks. The answer was simple: I was out of spoons.

But just recently, I came to realize a new aspect to the entire theory. It happened when I was watching my friend during her horseback riding lesson. I had taken a lesson once before, but it was so incredibly difficult for me. I didn’t understand why, and was frustrated that I wasn’t able to take the lessons myself. I thought maybe I just wasn’t capable of riding.

Now I know that my capability has nothing to do with it. It’s all about my spoons.

After listening to the instructor constantly telling my friend how to ride the horse, and watching my friend ride, I became exhausted just sitting there on the sidelines. I was using up spoons, and I wasn’t even on a horse! And that’s when I realized: I have multiple kinds of spoons. It’s not just spoons. It’s physical, mental and emotional spoons.

I may be capable of taking a horseback riding class physically, but it would take so many mental spoons to do so that it’s not worth it. And that’s why it’s easier for me to go on a simple trail ride instead. I get to enjoy the riding without having to worry so much about controlling the horse, because the horse already knows the trail.

This revelation has led me to better understand myself in all aspects of life. It explains why there are days I feel physically exhausted but mentally restless, or the other way around. It also explains why when I have a meltdown (which takes a lot of emotional spoons) I am usually unable to function for several hours after.

I think the trick is to learn ways to cope and replenish all of the different kinds of spoons. And what works to replenish my mental spoons (self-stimming) could deplete my physical spoons. So the next step is to find a balance in coping skills. But at least now I can better understand what I’m working with.

Originally published: March 29, 2023
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