When things change


When I was 12, my family moved from New York City to Upstate New York. I remember showing some of the kids in my old school my new school in the glossy brochure. Admittedly, I was gloating a little. I even gave away two of my treasured Baby-Sitter’s Club paperbacks to a girl in my class. This was a big change, but a welcome one. Good riddance, noisy, crowded and stressful City!
Not all changes in my life were greeted with this much enthusiasm. In fact, I generally dislike change. This is another Autistic trait I am learning about. People on the spectrum are lovers of routine. Some may be quite rigid while others might be slightly flexible. Just about everyday, i know what I’m going to eat for breakfast. It will either be peanut butter and bananas, something I call sweet potato porridge or gluten free toast with coconut oil, peanut butter and honey. If I don’t have any of these things, I feel a little lost. I am willing to eat something else, but, at that point, I am feeling anxious and it is hard to think about what I will make. On these days, I may not eat until the afternoon and then I feel like my whole day goes off the rails.
All of this because I’m out of bananas? This is actually not something that I do willingly. It is a kind of a compulsion. It helps me to have a little control over a situation that could easily wind up in sensory overload. I am hungry and going into the kitchen after I have just awakened. The kids are also asking for food. I hear the sounds in the morning that disturb me like the school bus picking up neighborhood kids (my kids are homeschooled)  or the trash truck and other distractions that continue to up the stress anty.
All my sense levers are always switched on. It is hard to block out noises, smells, overheard conversations, things that brush against my skin, things that need to be cleaned or put away.
Having some things that are constant brings a certain calm to my chaotic life and relieves me of less worry about details.
For people on the spectrum, routine and resistance to change is about emotional survival. We would like to be flexible, but the world around us is constantly spitting out sensory information that we have to interpret. From what I understand, our brains take longer to deal with this information than neurotypicals. If we keep most of our lives pretty predictable, we don’t have to go through the trouble of processing new sensory information for routine tasks. I know what textures and flavors I will have for breakfasts and what hair will look like(because I cut it so that it always looks the same in all kinds of weather)
It doesn’t take much imagination  to fathom how a strong preference for––rather an obsession over routine––can lead to some uncomfortable situations.
I just faced one tonight. My family went to the lake with some friends. My youngest son, who is 10, saw some of the kids playing in the water and decided that he must do that. It was nearly dark, but he begged and pouted and worse, just crawled up into a pitiful looking lump in the middle of the deck. I then began to realize that I was probably being unreasonable. This was not about the fact that I did not want to walk back to the car with him to get his swim shorts. I just did not want him to go into the water. This was an unexpected thing and I had not mentally prepared for it.
This story has a happy ending. I did walk with him to the car to get his swim shorts. And he was happy to have a few moments of bliss playing with the other children in the water. But tomorrow, I will probably eat bananas or toast for breakfast.
What things do you do routinely? How do you react when your routine is disturbed?

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