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November 9, 2013
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November 22, 2013
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Why Autistics Have Rigid Routines

Our rigid routines can be really, really aggravating for the people around us. So I’m going to give you a little thought experiment, to help you understand what is going on for us autistics. My firm belief is that if you can relate our behaviours to your own life and experiences, you will be able to bring empathy and effective problem-solving into your life, and the life of the autistics you care for.

Take a moment and remember the last time you did something new. Maybe you went to a new school, traveled to another city, or learned a new language. How did you feel while you were doing this? Maybe there was some exhilaration from doing something exciting, but were you more tired at the end of the day?

You’ve probably had the experience of driving, cycling, or walking somewhere and “going on automatic”. You arrive at your destination, and you completely cannot remember your trip. You were so involved in other thoughts that your body and its memories took over and got you to where you wanted to go (or to somewhere you go more often, to your aggravation)!

Daily tasks cost us autistics more thought, more effort, and more energy. It’s a real struggle to keep ourselves paying attention, staying on track, getting through a sequence of necessary events, and actually getting things done. While in some avenues we’re constantly seeking for how to improve our efficiency and effectiveness, to lower this high cost, in most parts of our lives, we put our routines into long-term memory storage, or “automatic”.

Imagine that neurotypicals (that’s anybody who doesn’t have an ASD) are home computers with lots of RAM. RAM on a computer is what allows you to have a bunch of different windows open at the same time, so you can flip from one task to another. As a neurotypical, you can keep several steps or stages in mind at the same time as you are actually getting something done, and sometimes change what you’re planning to do several steps ahead, on the fly.

Now imagine that autistics are like the old mainframe computers which chug away for long periods of time on single tasks. They have a huge amount of hard-drive memory, but will freeze if you try to give them more than one thing to do. If you can’t relate to that analogy, think of how much more slowly your computer works when it has to start using the hard drive to get things done; same situation, one thing at a time. Lots of long term storage, but only one program up and running at once.

Autistics are taking in a lot more information through their sensory systems, seeing more colours, hearing more tones, and so on. This amounts to a huge amount of signal processing our brains have to do, to sort what is signal (what has meaning for us) and what is noise (what is considered irrelevant). If whatever we’re doing isn’t a routine, and isn’t a program that we do exactly the same way every time, it takes an awful lot more RAM, and an awful lot more effort.

Think about when you travel, even to another city, how much more tired you are at the end of the day, how much harder it is to do everything because you don’t know where to go. You don’t even know where to find a bathroom, sometimes!  Or thinking in another language, how very tiring that can be when you’re not used to it, not doing it on “automatic”.

For us autistics, it’s just way more exhausting every time we have to do something differently, consciously thinking our way through each part rather than running a program. So the more we can structure our lives to do the same things, in the same order, at the same time, the easier it is for us to encompass a few things that have to have some amount of change in them.


If you or someone you love could use more information on how to Thrive With Autism, please join us for one of our upcoming webinars;

Thrive With Autism Essentials gives you the keys to help the autistics you care about at home, school, and work.

The Five Root Causes of Autism helps you find the unique blend at the root of your particular autistic challenges.

To sign up, please go to:  www.SignUpGenius.com/go/10C0D4AAFAB2BA2FE3-twafall

If you’re tired of the frustration of not knowing why you’re not making the headway other people seem to, in optimizing the gifts, and minimizing the challenges of autism, please join Susan Watts and I for our next  online series.  We’d very much love to help you get more of the improvements in function and quality of life that you most want, sooner.

Thank you for caring about someone with autism!

Best Wishes, Jackie

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