I’m Autistic, But I Don’t Have Meltdowns When Routines Change
That doesn’t make me less autistic
One of the typical traits people associate with autism is the need for repetition and routines. For many of us autistic people, routines are very important. A change in plans can wreak havoc and bring a meltdown. In some cases, I can get frustrated if something was supposed to happen but failed. But anybody else does, too, every now and then. I am fine if plans change. I do not mind if half of the groceries on my shopping list are out of stock. I will come up with something else to cook for dinner. A friend could cancel their arrival at the last moment… well, maybe that is a bit disappointing, but going to a place other than initially agreed upon is perfectly fine.
Does this make me less autistic? Or a fake autistic person?
No. My behaviour is affected strongly by my ADHD. I crave and need a regular change in routines — quite the opposite of autism, right? If I do the same thing for several days in a row, it starts getting boring. If I push myself and do it for a month, it gets unpleasant and something that I would rather avoid. If it goes on for half a year… well… I would probably hate it.
But how can you hold a job if you need change all the time?
It depends on the job. I have been in a situation where I had one project for nine months (no, it was not pregnancy). The beginning was okay. I felt some excitement about these new tasks, looking forward to learning something new. A month later, I already knew what I was supposed to do. There were some small challenges to get over, but all in all, it felt pretty routine. The job matched my background well… but maybe a bit too well. Half a year into it, I had learned close to nothing new. I had to do the exact same thing every single day. I was getting very frustrated and started looking for other opportunities. I told my employer that I would like some more demanding tasks, and they said that maybe half a year later, there would be a new project for me to switch to. Half a year? What?! No… Eight months since I took the job, and I had already sent some 20 job applications. I had an interview that went well, and I received a phone call. I was offered a new position at another company! Yes! I was finally out!
Loving your job is overestimated, after all
Nine months after I had started my boring job, I returned my work laptop and left. What a relief! I was so happy that I felt like jumping and screaming with joy! A friend of mine said I was weird. It was just a job, after all. If it pays the bills, who cares what it is?Well, I do. I need to feel inspired at work. A person with ADHD needs a rush of excitement regularly — dopamine rewards. We crave the ability to jump from one task to another. My current job is an excellent match for me. The field is still the same, but I get small tasks that can be finished in a matter of a few days. Then comes the next challenge. And then the next. Exciting!Instead of placing blame and forcing myself to stick to a “quite decent job”, I found a new one that matched my needs. As a bonus, I got a small salary increase, but that is not the reason I am totally in love with my current employer.
Predictability matters at times
Back to autism. An autistic person needs predictability. As much as I love change, I get agitated if I receive a task, but then it gets shifted to another person. Sometimes it might be reasonable to let a colleague take over because I already have too much on my plate… yet… it disturbs me. I am already mentally prepared to deal with it. I have started planning how to tackle it, what I need to look up, and how to respond to the customer. While I am not going to have a meltdown, I am upset all day. As far as my knowledge goes, it is unclear why routines are so important to autistic people. Maybe the struggle with reading between the lines and with body language contributes to this agitation. You get told something, yet you are not aware that such a cue has arrived and that you are expected to act in some way. Unpredictability may cause you to start worrying about the future, what will happen next, and how to be prepared for it. It would be much better if you knew how life would unfold, at least for a week ahead.
Finding your best match
In any case, the need for routine and predictability should not be something to be ashamed of. There are professions where routine is critical. Such jobs are a good option for a person with autism. As usual, go for what feels natural, not against your wishes and needs. Do not try to fit into a mold, or you would be like a fully inflated balloon squeezed into the shape of a pyramid. You will align and fill the volume, but it is unnatural.
Find your way to thrive, no matter how long the search takes.
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About the author
I combine my passion for technology, science and art, twisting them all through the lens of my neurodivergence. My aim is to raise awareness about various conditions and invisible disability surrounded by stigma, rejection and disbelief.