Routine and Autistic people go hand-in-hand like a console and a cartridge. There are so many aspects of my life as an Autistic person that are defined and categorized into routines. The important thing to remember is that there is no set style of routine, and it’s important to teach people what will ultimately help them succeed. Putting the term into a box of set definitions misses many ways that people best live their own lives.
The thing about routine is it helps set my brain and focus on a specific task or set of tasks. Think about a steam train, with the right track and combustion material then the train isn’t going anywhere. If I don’t have some kind of routine pointing me in a direction, then I can feel lost and much more likely to disassociate. I’ll let days and weeks pass me by, without any idea of what day it even is. (In extreme cases)
What I have always struggled with is consistency in my routines. Like I have mentioned previously, I also have Bipolar. It sometimes feels like I have two opposing forces inside; one trying to take it day by day and one trying to bring structure in my life. The problem about setting routines with Bipolar is that by it’s very definition, Bipolar is a constantly changing part of my mind. This effects how much energy I have each day, how much stimuli I can take, how sociable I am feeling, etc.
The part of me that thrives on routine and structure isn’t able to thrive or keep any consistency. When my structure begins to fall apart, I have trouble getting ANYTHING done. Let’s return to the steam train, think of it as only getting one aspect that you need fulfilled, which is useless without the others. If I have combustion material, but no track to burn that energy in a direction, I just feel like it all backs up. I feel like I am going to explode, sitting there uselessly with the energy but nowhere to burn it. (I really don’t think trains explode, it’s a metaphor and I don’t know how trains work)
The other problem is having the track, the direction, all of the groundwork needed to succeed, but no energy to do anything; you lack the right combustible materials to get the train going.
That’s where I get stuck sometimes. I sit there feeling useless as time and the world passes me by, unable to grab onto the carousel. Through a lot of therapy, and having access to the right medication, it’s easier to see the third component that’s crucial for the train to work. A conductor… uh, shoveler? (I told you I don’t know trains)
Your will to live is extremely important in the equation. If you spend your life not sure if you even want to live or thinking you wouldn’t live past a certain age. This creates a loss of direction and understanding of your own health. My train basically entered a fog, and instead of stopping, taking stock, and treading carefully; I jammed the engine with anything on the train I could burn. I had no idea where I was going, but I figured if I went fast enough and burned through all my warning signs I’d get SOMEWHERE.
It is so important that you don’t just do this. I know circumstances are different for everybody, you also need to balance it with your own health needs. Take breaks and time where you can, don’t just constantly keep your mind busy by moving from task to task, job to job. I hit a point where I had absolutely nothing left to burn on the train and suffered from such a terrible burnout and crash that I was unsure of my own future. It still has ramifications to this day on how I can take stimuli.
There are many external forces that affect routine as well, and we can’t just say that loss of routine or struggling to find routine is solely in the control of the individual.
Autistic people are much more likely to be in retail or part time positions, and if you’ve worked them you know it’s rare to find somewhere with any semblance of consistency to the schedule. You’re expected to book haircuts, doctors appointments, therapy appointments, and everything else weeks to a month in advanced; and you’ll be lucky to have your schedule up three to four days before your first shifts of the next week.
How is anybody able to get ANYTHING done, let alone Autistic people who thrive off routine, and have extra appointment and care needs that are impossible to schedule in workplaces that put up their schedules late and disapprove of taking time off. (One place going so far as to try to argue that the mandatory two weeks vacation could actually only be taken a week at a time, or you give up a week for a single day if you REALLY need a single day off. Like what!?) We also have a very narrow view of what routine is in general, and that means we aren’t teaching Autistic youth of all the ways that they can succeed. You see, the conductor keeps an eye out ahead, laying multiple tracks with switches as you go. (Okay stay with me, I get you don’t just quickly put down track) Okay, so the conductor is looking ahead, mapping out all possible paths and laying down the tracks for each. Now you have path options, in addition you didn’t just bring wood, but other combustible materials.
What I am trying to say is that you are better prepared when you prepare for possibilities and diversify what you are doing. Can’t get yourself to write for a few weeks, putting off your hiatus return? Instead of staring at that blank page each week and beating myself up for it, I unclogged the brain pipes by moving onto work on video thumbnails first. Something else to get your brain in that motion of perform action>complete task>feel good.
In addition, we need to stop solely thinking of routine as a calendar schedule. While yes there are people that thrive in that scenario, when you also have Bipolar or other factors that make it difficult to keep a consistent weekly schedule, people run out of advice. What’s important to remember is that literally anything that is task based and somewhat consistent can be a routine. Micro routines as I like to call them, give you those positive vibes that are associated with every other routine, but are easier to maintain when you have trouble maintaining schedules.
This can honestly be as simple as knowing that right before bed every night you brush your teeth. That’s it, nothing magical or anything to it, but having that consistency will slowly help more than you realize.
In addition, is the routine doesn’t have to be on any set schedule. Instead, it’s more of a sub-routine, not consistent in any way but a planned activity, event, or series of tasks in a specific order. I don’t edit every day, or on any specific days, but each series has a set routine that I do for the editing. Once I do it once, I streamline it and improve in each concurrent episode. Even having that set task1>task2>task3 order makes all the difference for me.
I can’t stress enough how important it is for many Autistic people to have some semblance of a routine, and the more we talk about how routines can differ and look different from person to person, the better. The more Autistic people able to speak about their own experiences, and advice on routines, the more of us that will grow up thriving.
Anyway, you have a routine and fantastic day.