Change. Change of work. Change of address. Change of pace. Change of style. Change in circumstances. When I was thinking about writing this I started thinking of all the different ways a change can occur in a personal life and I was able to list so many and say the word “change” so much that the word started to no longer sound real to me (Don’t laugh, we’ve all done that).
Change often gets mentioned alongside Autism in that “people on the spectrum struggle with change”. “Strong need for routine…” “…engage in and prefer repetitive behavioural patterns…” “…distress from sudden change or general changes to their routine…” and many more statements get used verbally or written down with anything Autism related. It is practically considered our own personal kryptonite. I am no exception to this: change can make me nervous (which can be putting it lightly in some cases…) particularly if it is sudden and without prior warning. However: I disagree with this implication that a dislike (or aversion) to change is necessarily bad or even a flaw. It often gets seen as such but I would instead argue it is a naturally human inclination to be wary of change and one that is most certainly not exclusive to Autistic people. I’ve encountered many neurotypical people who will spout about people on the spectrum not liking change and have been on the receiving end of condescending head nods of “understanding” as people go “I get that change is hard for you” (and considering tones of voice isn’t exactly my strong suite you know the tone of voice was strong for even myself to notice it!). But change can affect everyone no matter what your neurological status is: because simply put change can be scary! Because with change comes uncertainty and- surprise, surprise- uncertainty is also scary! What may be the factor that can set people on the spectrum apart is because I would argue we may feel it more deeply. Because despite the Autism myth that we are uncapable of feeling; we feel a lot and many suggest we can sometimes feel emotions even stronger than the average neurotypical…which, when mixed in with the already strong feelings of fear or worry can understandably lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and leave a person struggling to react or cope with those feelings which could then lead to a meltdown…so it’s understandable to wish to avoid all that by simply wishing to avoid change in the first place.
Problem is: change is inevitable (kind of like Thanos just minus the infinity gauntlet snap (just to show my geek references can include marvel and DC)). Life is a constant state of change and growth and adaptation. Luckily for us as a community, though not many realise it, adaptation itself is actually one of our strengths. We as a community are constantly adapting to our environment, circumstances and the people around us: whether in the intricate work of “masking” or just simply managing being Autistic in a Neurotypical world. And I realised this myself recently because I’ve realised, in a time of both great change and uncertainty, that I am constantly adapting and working to manage or manouvere changes or even changing things myself as and when needed: as is the case of every disabled person. Just realising that fact alone helps a lot because it’s like worrying about whether you can do something and then suddenly realising that yes you’re actually doing it and have been doing it. It’s like worrying about learning to drive and then you’re in your lessons driving and doing the thing you was so worried about in the first place. Think back to the last thing you had to face or learn to do that scared you and then you did it: odds are at some point about halfway through it you suddenly stopped and realised you was doing the very thing that had you worried and it wasn’t that scary after all. The same thing applies to change, you just don’t always realise that at first because the uncertainty of things can mask things beforehand.
Another idea that can help with change is controlling what aspects you can and focusing what you know about the change. I am a highly critical and analytical thinker and sometimes with change or uncertainty this can be a hindrance because my mind races to try and think of all the possible outcomes and before you know it I’ve fastracked myself into a meltdown quicker than Amazon can fastrack your parcel. So one of the best ways to help avoid that is to avoid the million outcome thinking. Don’t try to predict the unpredictable. Now I know what your thinking because I’ve thought it myself: “if it was that easy to avoid I’d already be avoiding it” but maybe the only reason you’re not avoiding it is because you aren’t providing your brain with an alternative. Providing yourself with a distraction (going for a walk, engaging in a hobby, cleaning etc) can be helpful and often crucial things to stop a meltdown in it’s tracks. However, there’s another way of focusing on what you know. For example I had fairly recently found myself needing to move. My partner and I were very luckily home one night when our washer caught on fire and we was able to stop said fire before there was serious danger but after that we felt we needed to move: cue the sudden and unexpected change that as a child would’ve sent me into a sobbing screaming mess that would’ve rivaled the Hulk. Instead though; I focused on what I knew, and what wasn’t changing. I knew i had my partner with me and his support and confidence with us moving. I knew we had his and our family to help us and despite a small time if uncertainty to move I quickly found us moving in with my partners family home which was a place familiar to me as was of course, the people. Then on a grander and arguably more philosophical level I knew the age old constant: the next day would be the next day and a new one, and that I would keep going like I always have, and that I would manage in some way as I always have.
That doesn’t mean that to sometimes have a meltdown is wrong. It’s not wrong. In it’s purest form: a meltdown is simply a burst of emotion to get it out of your system. I still cry in worry about things because sometimes I need the outburst to help get myself back under control and regulate emotions. It’s like if a person is a bowl, and emotion is water inside the bowl…sometimes too much water goes in and it overflows. Does that mean we try to keep it forced in a space that doesn’t fit? No you let some water go and then it’s fine. And sure enough after I cry I can wipe my eyes and keep going so ironically sometimes the best way to manage change is to have that outburst (despite what anyone may have you believe). So that can then help you refocus yourself to keep going, keep adapting and changing and be ready to face the change even if it scares you, because the way I’ve seen it for at least half my life now is that change will happen no matter what. So you can walk to meet it or get dragged to it kicking and screaming but either way it will happen. If you feel that analogy doesn’t quit work (which I understand since in my childhood kicking and screaming was the meltdown reaction in my childhood!) Think of it this way. If a lightbulb breaks on you suddenly and sends you suddenly into darkness…do you want to deal with it and change the bulb, or sit in the dark and struggle to see anything?