Written by Rebecca Sharrock
It’s widely known that any kind of change (whether it be at school, work, in the home environment, or anywhere else) is absolute agony for anyone who lives on the autism spectrum. This isn’t a mere speculation either. It’s the plain and simple truth. The ways in which each and every one of us expresses these discomforts depends on our general personality, and also the severity of our autism. Yet the reasons for us not favouring change are the same amongst us all.
The primary reason for our dislike of change comes from the fact that we have a slower than average processing speed. So it’s much easier for us to live by routine, and do the same things over and over. Whenever something unexpectedly comes up we have to think of a solution on the spot from the top of our head. We’re required to do this faster than our minds naturally process. So doing this too often drains us, and therefore creates anxiety (that’s already a sensitive area for us).
Being mentally drained also prevents us from fully attending to our other daily requirements which we had set in our mind to do. This changes even more things and instead of having to process quickly for one thing, we then have to process for about twenty other things at the same time. Autistic people are not good multi-taskers (naturally at the very least). So this domino effect can potentially turn into a large meltdown.
Also, those of us with autism get a strong sense of comfort with familiar situations and environments, along with stability. We tend to believe that anything that worked well for us in the past is a nice solid rock for us to lean upon throughout our lifetime. These creature comforts of ours often include our caregivers too, which can surprise many people who believe that those of us with autism form no emotional connections to anybody.
When I was six years old (a couple of decades ago) a psychologist stated that I couldn’t be autistic because I had such a strong connection with my mother. This was even despite me having all of the other autistic traits. Yet it’s not surprising that we will connect with a caregiver, as we grow to rely on that person for comfort and support.
The changes that come along with maturing and moving into adulthood are often hard for people with autism. As we move our way through our childhood we’ll absorb so much about the independence (and therefore loss of our nurtured structure) that will be required of us once we’re grown. This is the reason why many people with autism regress, at least a little, whenever they’re under any kind of stress. Returning to our younger years gives us a feeling of security.
So when caring for autistic children and adults it’s best to ask us about the structure and familiarities we need whenever it comes to making a necessary life change. Then we together can work out ways that suit both us as the autistic person, along with the needs of society and the people who we live with. If a change is absolutely necessary it’s also crucially important to introduce it into our lives in broken down stages.