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Learning to Tolerate Change as an Autistic Adult

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We live in a world which is continuously accommodating new and extraordinary changes, from thrilling developments in technology to the day to day changes we each face in our personal lives.

For those on the autism spectrum, tolerating change (regardless of how minor) can seem excruciatingly painful and like the most daunting process imaginable. We generally love sticking to our rigid routines with the select few people we trust. We enjoy structure and the comfort of knowing exactly what each day will bring. We struggle to understand the reasons behind changes and avoid them wherever possible because they often appear meaningless, especially when all seems well and life is going swimmingly, and the reason for change doesn’t seem to make any sense.

If everything is fine, why the need for change?

As an Aspie, I struggle to justify the need to do and accept things which don’t always result in a black and white, clear outcome. It seems pointless in the same way small talk does. I prefer knowing what will happen and when it will happen. I often ask myself the above question and jump to the quick conclusion that changes will cause nothing but trouble. My instant reaction is fear, and I become agitated and stressed about the possible outcome of the change on the horizon.

Attention to detail is a common autistic trait. I sit in a room and absorb the information around me, similar to a sponge but without the acknowledgement that I am doing so. I remember exactly where every piece of furniture is placed, and can easily detect when even the slightest of changes have occurred, which only leaves me overflowing with confusion and an array of questions as I remain unaware of why the change was necessary.

Throughout my autism acceptance journey, I’ve learned that changes happen every day and it’s the way we familiarize ourselves with them that matters. I realized I have survived every change in the past, and that awareness has assisted in my positive thinking and my growing willingness to take a leap into the unknown. We must forgive ourselves for becoming upset when faced with a change, because it’s all part of our condition, just one of our quirks. Autism can give us the ability to handle whatever life throws our way, with our learned coping mechanisms to guide us through.

Change is unavoidable, as much as it pains me to say. Although scary, changes don’t have to be bad and they can actually signify the beginning of something beautiful. The reason behind changes isn’t always clear, which again can be tricky to tolerate when you’re autistic due the fear of the unknown. We can only put our trust in those around us and believe it’s for the greater good as opposed to dwelling on fears and letting high levels of anxiety kick in.

Without change, things wouldn’t improve. We’d all remain compact in our small comfort zones, which can be beautiful places, but they can also limit and hinder growth. Caterpillars undergo change to transform into a gorgeous butterfly, and that’s the way I am learning to see it. We wouldn’t be blessed with the magnificent things we have in our lives today without having undergone scary changes. Change is crucial in order to move forward and build a solid foundation for the lives we wish to create for ourselves and our loved ones.

My journey towards university life was a daunting change to begin with; I was faced with many challenges. I tackled the transition from primary school to secondary school and then to college, so this was bound to be another success. I tackled the anxieties I held about settling into my new surroundings and meeting new friends and teachers. I allowed my autism to act as a stepping stone to overcoming my fears, and I remained positive that it would all be worth it as I head on my career pathway to saving animals. Nothing was going to stop me from succeeding in university life, and once I popped my positive pants on, I truly was winning!

Changes can be terrifying to cope with, but in my experience, as long as we put one foot in front of the other, confide in those around us and focus on the advantages, it will become increasingly tolerable and we will be OK.

Originally published: October 25, 2018
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