It’s very common for autistic children and adults to experience anxiety of some sort when their routine is disturbed, and whenever things happen at short notice or unexpectedly.
This is certainly the case for me. It’s crucially important for me to have my day timetabled and fully planned before I get out of bed each morning. I’ll organise my schedule before I go to bed the previous night, and also while I’m dreaming, as all my dreams are lucid (the definition of lucid dreaming is when a person is conscious that they are asleep during their dreaming phase).
Whenever something unexpected occurs which leaves me with no other choice than to change my timetable, I experience extreme anxiety and often have a meltdown as a result. In addition to having autism I also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which multiplies those challenges by two.
Having no choice but to change my set timetable could be a result of an emergency, someone being unwell (and therefore unable to take me somewhere), or an unexpected weather event that could cancel initial plans in many possible ways.
It’s very easy for me to put down my intense need for routine and familiarity to my autism, in general. Yet once I go down a little deeper into why exactly those feelings of mine are there, a few more specific answers come to me.
Due to my autism I am much slower with processing information. I experience much difficulty and stress whenever I have to try and process something new. It’s therefore easier for me to live my life by continuing to do what I’ve always done. I feel much more comfortable doing things that I know have worked in the past, which gives me more inner certainty of success than trying something new gives me. Also, whenever I try something new (which includes doing things in a different way to how I’m accustomed to) I’m made to think up an action quickly on the spot. I have a lot of difficulties with processing information quickly, and thus always experience anxiety to varying degrees as a result of that.
Something else that I have difficulty with (of which is very typical to autism) is having one on one conversations with people. Those difficulties arise from me having a slower than average mental processing speed too. The public talks I do as part of my career are scripted, or organised in a very predictable way. In typical conversation however, topics of discussion and the words themselves are rarely ever predictable. This is why my natural instinct is to avoid entering conversations as I get highly distressed when anything related to them (mainly words, topics of discussion and responses) don’t go as I expect them to.
It’s therefore important for me to timetable my days and structure every action I do beforehand. Unfortunately change of routine is not always 100% avoidable. So occasional meltdowns will inevitably happen from time to time. Yet it’s indeed possible for me to create multiple plans for each time slot (plan As, Bs and so on). That way I’ll always have a backup or two, just in case unexpected conditions make plan A impossible, and I will still at least have the comfort within me that I stuck to the set plans I made regardless.
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General characteristics of an autistic meltdown can involve amongst other things yelling, banging or thrashing around. On the surface they look very similar to immature temper tantrums but in truth are very different. Rebecca Sharrock explains from her own personal perspective why this is the case.
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