Short answer: not very well.
Ok, ok, that’s no good for a blog post. This is actually a really old idea on my possible blog topics list. Sufficiently old that I actually don’t remember what inspired the idea. Probably a facebook comment I saw somewhere, or maybe a comment on a blog or article I read. In any case, someone was asking about autistic people and handling change.
Now, not to be a stereotype or anything, but I really don’t like change. Sameness is happiness. Ok, it’s not that simple, but still. I like predictability, I like routines, I like knowing what’s happening. Not that I’m alone in this. I mean, it’s pretty much a cliche that if a website changes its layout, everyone will immediately hollar and complain about how horrible the change is and how much better it was before, even if it turns out that the change was for the better. I really suspect that no one likes change.
However, difficulty handling change does seem to be considered an “autistic thing.” Honestly, given that I think it’s an “everyone thing” I suspect that it’s less about change specifically, and more about other things on the autism spectrum. Maybe sensory stuff, maybe differences in how we express displeasure or stress, and honestly, maybe we really do have a harder time with change than NTs. I wouldn’t know, since I would need to experience the world as a NT in order to compare and actually see if there are substantial differences.
I do have a hard time with change, and yeah, it’s a thing for everyone, to a greater or lesser degree. So the question was about how we make it easier (it may have been directed at other parents, because lots of parents don’t seem to direct their autism questions to, you know, autistic people, but that’s another rant entirely and it doesn’t really matter for the substance of this post). In that vein, what do I do to deal with change? I don’t feel like I know enough about this to officially make it part of my How Do I Adult series, but here are some things kinda in that vein.
A big thing is that I really try to avoid being surprised by change. People who know me generally know to give me a heads up if a change is coming up so that I have time to adjust. A while back I changed riding instructors. My original instructor let me know several months in advance that at a certain point she wasn’t going to be able to teach me anymore so I had lots of time to get used to the idea. Changes to my routine are always thought out in advance and usually discussed with Nee, even if they don’t actually impact him in any way. I do the same thing with changes in plans.
Speaking of plans (this is kind of related to this topic) – I don’t do spontaneous. It’s just too stressful. I know that “normal” people seem to think that spontaneous socialization = better socialization, but this just isn’t the case for me. With a lot of personal work over a long period of time (we’re talking years here), I’ve managed to whittle down the amount of advance time I need to be comfortable with a socialization plan to be only three days. Still, I prefer more advance notice if I can get it.
Changes to previously laid plans also generally call for advance notice if possible. The theme here is giving me time to adjust. I just need processing time.
That said, sometimes shit happens and advance notice just isn’t going to happen. Plans get cancelled, weather happens, people or animals get sick. What then?
Well, I have a few things I do to make this easier on me. A BIG one is to remove myself from the situation that is stressing me. I mean, if a plan is cancelled I can’t suddenly make it happen. But if I find myself somewhere I didn’t expect to be, allowing myself to leave, even if it’s just to go outside by myself to breathe, is huge. Part of this is that I cannot handle feeling trapped (seriously. cannot), and part of this is that if I’m in an unexpected situation I might not be processing everything very well and I just need a time-out to let my brain catch up.
Another, more recent, this is to let myself be grumpy. Now, this one is much more viable now that I am on the antidepressant and random negative feels are much less likely to trigger a horrible crash and depression episode. So now I can just let myself be grumpy about, say, riding being cancelled because of extreme cold.
Before the meds, grumpiness had to be handled much more carefully because as mentioned, there was a not-insignificant risk that it would trigger a nasty crash. However, I can’t force myself to cheer up, nor can I force feelings I don’t want to go away. So mostly I tried to keep an equilibrium (breathe… breathe… breathe…) and brace myself against any icky feelings that came from plans being changed.
I also try to structure my life to maximize my ability to handle changes or the unexpected. I have a certain level of regular, weekly routine that I always follow. If that routine gets messed up for some reason, I get REALLY stressed. However, if I can keep to that basic routine, I have a lot of room around it for various things. I mean, ok, not impromptu socializing, but I can handle short-term decisions to, say, go grocery shopping or do other low-level evening things with Nee. A big thing, though, is that having a certain amount of my weeks always look the same makes it easier to have other parts of my weeks not look the same. Maybe THIS saturday I plan to visit a friend, and THAT saturday I go to a religious function, and THIS wednesday I plan to go to a movie. These week-to-week changes, even planned in advance, are largely possible because of the predictability I keep in my life.
I have no idea if any of this will help anyone else, and I think I got a little rambly, but there it is. Change. Change is serious business. Srsly.