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  • Posted December 5, 2020

How Autistics Can Manage Change Through Planning

One of the universal truths of the world is that change happens, no matter what. This applies for autistic individuals and everyone else as well. This is the only world we all live in. While I always aim to be flexible, COVID-19’s effects on the world made my attempts at maintaining a “go with the flow” attitude pointless. My urge to be as easygoing as possible became impossible to follow through on, and it did not help that I went through a lot of life changes at the same time! I changed jobs, saw several organizations I had relationships with go under, and saw an ugly side of several friends, and was challenged by all the decisions I made years ago and during the pandemic. Worst of all, I would have moments where I was on the verge of breaking down due to the sheer number of changes in my life and the stress they caused. These challenges and more are all too familiar a story that we are regularly hearing during our neurodiverse consulting and mentorship sessions.

How does one get back up after all these changes within one year? Read on for some ways autistics can manage change, whenever it strikes through better planning and routine.

Remember What You Are Fighting For

Everyone has a passion for something, whether it is a hobby, a job, or a life goal. Whatever it may be, cling onto it when times get tough so that you have something to fight for. For example, whenever I’m going through changes or hardships I like to think about my passion, which is helping autistic people locate resources on topics like driving. I have written a series of blog articles on this topic for Planning Across the Spectrum. We help our autistic clients focus on their passion to take their mind off the hardships we all have faced this past year. Our autistic mentoring and counseling services help boost our client’s confidence and give them strength. We help them to think of their passion as anchor and sudden changes don’t seem quite as scary.

Regain Control by Following A Routine

While dealing with change, try to follow your regular routine as much as possible. Whether it is getting coffee on the weekends or going on regular drives to recenter yourself, familiar everyday habits can calm you down and help you maintain a sense of normalcy. That applies to not just autistics, but everyone else as well. We all need a sense of routine and special needs individuals do well with structure. More importantly, they can offer you control over something when it feels like everything else in your life is out of your hands. Try making a list of the things you do as part of your daily routine and check each one off as you accomplish them. This is a key part of our neurodiverse prioritization counseling services.

Ward Off Meltdowns and Burnout by Taking Breaks

In times of change, you may experience moments when your body and mind become overloaded. This state can happen to any autistic individual, myself included. This can lead to nervous breakdowns, meltdowns, and burnout, all of which make dealing with the changes in your life even more difficult. If you reach that kind of breaking point, step aside from your usual routines and give your body (and mind) time to adjust and recharge. I had a few breakdowns happened to me and I basically shut down despite my efforts to solider through it. I called in to work, told them what I was going through, and they were understanding enough to let me take time to recharge. As part of our neurodiverse employment coaching we recommend if you find yourself in a similar experience, do not be afraid to take breaks when you need them! Even if you do not have time for a long break, setting aside a few minutes to clear your head can work wonders.

Find A Hobby to Keep You Grounded During Stressful Times

I cannot stress how important having a hobby is, especially if you work full-time. Having a hobby can help keep your mind off work during after hours. Even the most famous people had hobbies to help distract them from their chaotic lives. Hobbies can have a positive impact on one’s life in the face of upheaval, and some even change the world: Walt Disney coped with the stress of a studio strike and the demand for WWII propaganda shorts by getting into model trains, and the backyard railroad he created for his family inspired him to create Disneyland. Even if your hobbies do not change the world, they can be life changing. This summer I got into a multiplayer mobile game called SINoALICE, and have gotten invested in not just the story, but the community of people who play it. Becoming a sub-guild master, coordinating strategies with other members, and recruiting people to the guild have allowed me to make a surprising amount of social connections, and the gameplay loop has helped keep me sane over the past year. My guild even made it to the highest rank for a week recently and I had a temporary member regain their love of the game because of me. The latter being one of the best things I can do in any game. Finding a hobby - whether it is playing an instrument, origami, or something else entirely - gives you a purpose outside of your job and can help you cope with changes around you. We “get it” and help our clients through special needs mentorship services.

Stop comparing yourself to others

When you are going through a period of difficult changes, it can be easy to compare yourself to others who seem to have it all figured out. But doing so is counterproductive at best and should be avoided. When I compared myself to the wrong people in any communities, autism or not, especially around the time I aged out of school services, it only served to create more problems. I came close to falling into the same trap again this year because I had to start thinking about how to handle my college career as I pursue an undergraduate degree. Do I force myself to get it quickly so I can catch up to people my age, balance out both work and courses, or take my time, knowing that I am doing enough? While I do not yet know the answer to that specific question, I know that I cannot compare my path to others. After all, everyone else’s paths do not factor in the life experiences that got me here. If I do try and compare myself to others, I will only be hurting myself.

No one can avoid change. It is an inevitable aspect of life that we all must deal with. It is unknown and scary, but it can be manageable. The most important thing you can do in the face of change is knowing your limits and taking breaks for self-care whenever you are about to about to hit them. The good news is that dealing with change effectively can be as simple as taking control of the things you can and developing a routine that accommodates for the changes in your life. When you go on that coffee run or that trip to the store every Friday, you are taking back control of your life. We, at Planning Across the Spectrum, will help you with special needs planning services through our neurodiverse ongoing coaching and support.