Why routine is so important for people on the spectrum

The idea for this post came from a conversation I had with my father yesterday afternoon. He suggested that it would be a good topic to explore on my blog and reminded me of a particular incident that happened a couple of years ago so I decided it would be as good a topic as any to write about on here.

I personally believe that everybody on this earth has their own little routines that they prefer to stick to. I think that the difference between people on the autistic spectrum and people who aren’t on the spectrum is the importance we place on these routines. I know that people who aren’t on the spectrum often describe routines as “comfortable”-people who are on the autistic spectrum often use routines as survival techniques and hence can become extremely distressed and bewildered when these are unable to be completed for any reason. Routines are the only certainties we can rely on in a world that is so confusing for us.

I like to think that, among the community of people with Aspergers, I am one of the more flexible people. I will change my shifts at work if I am asked beforehand to help colleagues out, for example, and, if plans are changed with notice, I am usually happy to go with the new plan. I don’t have specific places that I need to go to when I go out-I will eat anywhere there’s food and sometimes I will just look for a restaurant that looks like it serves nice food rather than deciding beforehand. However, there are some things that have happened over the years that have made me realise that, actually, in certain ways, I am extremely reliant on routine.

The specific example I am thinking of and was talking about on the phone yesterday happened a couple of years ago. I really wanted a new phone and had opted for the IPhone 4S as lots of my relatives had this model and I already knew how to set it up (I get hugely frustrated when technology doesn’t work properly when setting things up but that’s a topic for another time!) I picked a date to go to London and get an IPhone 4S and put it in the calendar on my phone. When the day came, I went up to London, chose the model, chose the colour and was all ready to take it home. Unfortunately, the credit check had to go through Carphone Warehouse and I had no credit rating as didn’t have a credit card so I failed their credit check. The man on the other end of the phone then said, if I paid an extra £200, I could leave the store with the phone anyway. The sales assistant said that this was a ridiculous price to offer, as did my dad, but I was so determined to leave the store with the phone that day as it was that day that I had scheduled to get the phone. Eventually I ordered the phone from another store but still had to wait a day for the delivery. I was hugely disappointed and frustrated that I had come back from London with no IPhone 4S. Most people would not even consider spending an extra £200 just to have the phone then and there but, if I was shopping alone, I probably would have paid it over.

I tend to find that it’s the little routines that I rely on more and these help me to be more adaptable when it comes to big changes. On occasions, I have taken the bus into the nearest town to get my specific daily paper even when the shop across the road has been full of different types of newspaper with probably exactly the same articles. People will often say to me, “Why don’t you just read it online?” but another Aspergers trait of mine is that I have to physically feel the pages in my hands. The only time I will ever read the newspaper online is on a Sunday and that’s because I don’t like all the supplements that come with it on a Sunday. Another time, I had planned to go for lunch with a friend to a local restaurant that serves fantastic spaghetti bolognaise. When I got to her house, she realised she had chosen the wrong day as she had to stay in to look after her younger brother. A minor change in schedule but crushingly disappointing for me as I had planned to have this spaghetti bolognaise meal for days beforehand. I have lots of little routines in place-on Mondays and Tuesdays, for example, I always go to the local village shop with a work friend of mine during my 2 hour break from work to buy my newspaper. Some of my routines are not helpful to me-I have had to fight to get out of the routine of ordering takeaway pizza every Wednesday night, for example (still an ongoing fight). Like most people on all levels of the spectrum, once I have done something a couple of times, it quickly becomes stuck in my routine and it can take years to change the little routines. However, like I have mentioned before, big changes don’t phase me as much and I believe that this is because the little things never change.

I know that our love of routine can often be misunderstood and even mocked by other people who lack the understanding of conditions on the autistic spectrum. For those of you who aren’t on the spectrum, please stop next time you see someone who is reliant on routine and becoming upset that this is being changed without their notice or consent and remember that these small routines are sometimes literally the only thing keeping that person functioning in a confusing and mixed up world. Try and give them some space and understand that they are not just being difficult-it is genuinely hard for them to accept  changes.

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3 Responses to Why routine is so important for people on the spectrum

  1. ryanhendry94 says:

    Reblogged this on What's it like to live with Autism and commented:
    Very good post here. The bit about spending a huge amount of money on something just to keep the routine undisturbed is something I have definitely done in the past.

  2. pensiveaspie says:

    I love this post. ❤ I know that feeling all too well. I have also spent extra money because I have scheduled something for that particular day. If a friend calls and cancels an outing at a restaurant and I had planned to have a certain meal, I'll go anyway and get that particular meal. If I don't, my mind will keep thinking about it all day long. I'd love to use this blog entry in a book I am working on. ❤ Will you let me know?

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