I’m running on fumes. My battery is low. I’m almost out of spoons. All of those are ways to say, I need to take time to recharge.
Everyone knows how that feels. It’s not “a spectrum thing”. It becomes a spectrum thing when the boundaries of what recharge is and how often a recharge is required are discussed. Because, like almost everything in life, autistics do it differently. Simply put, autistic needs for recharge are different, not special, just different. And, as is often the case for differences, with a little bit of education and a fair amount of understanding, those things that once appeared different, upon closer inspection, will seem not so different at all.
The idea of recharge is not complicated.
Everything alive runs on energy. When that energy begins to be depleted, it’s time to recharge. It’s the same with your phone, and computer. It’s the same with your car and its fuel. It’s the same for humans. We use up energy like crazy. Our body functions alone use a ton and we aren’t even aware of half of them.
There is a portion of our overall energy that gets used by our physical body. The walking, eating, breathing of it all. But we require even more energy when we include the social and emotional draws on our energy banks. The talking, feeling, listening of life. In short, being human takes energy.
And, as we now know, an autistic human requires a little extra energy for physical, social, and emotional tasks as our brains are wired in their perfectly autistic way.
Conversely, this also means we also expend a little extra energy on being human, as well. Which leads me to the topic at hand, if autistics require extra energy, and expend extra energy, where does the extra energy come from? It comes from extra recharges. Meaning, because we deplete our stored energy with more frequency, we must also recharge with more frequency. It’s a simple, logical progression.
Now that we have established that autistics need to recharge more frequently, it would behoove us to discuss how to know it’s time to recharge and how to get the most out of your recharge time. Figuring out when it’s time to recharge can be complicated for autistics. We ride a very fine line in terms of having enough energy and having a meltdown.
As we struggle with keeping communication clear between our brains and bodies, we often find out its time to recharge a little too late, and we end up in meltdown phase.
Avoiding getting to meltdown phase would be ideal, though not always possible.
We can do our best by being mindful of the energy it requires to complete a task or participate in an activity. By checking in with ourselves about how much energy we have, we can get an idea of what we might be capable of at that time. A mindful check in also lets you know when it time for a recharge.
Try to predict your need for recharge based on past experiences and recharge in advance for some extra energy. Some clue to look for are:
- Difficulty focusing on the activity at hand
- Feeling frustrated or pessimistic
- Feeling tired, stuck, or slow, having physical discomfort, (i.e. headache, nausea, dizziness, racing pulse).
- I also find my coordination issues get worse as does my access to language.
All of these are clues that it is time to pause and recharge.
But what does it mean to recharge?
For me, I consider two big parts of my personhood when I am thinking recharge. First, I am autistic. Second, I am an introvert. As an autistic, I must consider my sensory needs, my social challenges, and my emotional hurdles as drains on my energy bank. I know that those things will require added energy for me as an autistic person living in a non-autistic world. They use up most my fuel on a regular basis which is multiplied when I add in uncommon activities. Fortunately, I am aware of the extra drain and can compensate accordingly by intentionally adding in recharge time.
I am also an introvert. This means that activities that include others are another drain on my energy bank. When I do activities with others, I know I will tire quickly from the extra work it takes and I also know I will need alone time to recharge. As an introvert, quiet, alone time is essential. For you extroverts, recharge will look entirely different as it’s the out in the world, people time that gives you a boost when feeling depleted.
Quality recharge time to me, is quiet time at home with my animals. No social obligations. No chores or errands. No schedule. No agenda. I don’t set alarms or make lists on recharge days. I limit sensory intrusions. I wear comfy clothes. I read. I write. I nap. I zone out on tv. What I don’t do, is expend unnecessary mental, physical, or emotional energy. Depending on how depleted living has left me, I will recharge. I know I have taken enough time when my thoughts get quicker, when I start to feel bored and restless, and when I no longer want to sit still above all else. It is then that I know I can venture out into the world again.
Recharge time has become an essential tool in my toolkit of life.
It is not an option but a requirement for me. It has become so essential that when I can anticipate an exhausting situation to come, I literally schedule in a pre-recharge. Let me explain. Travel is one of the most stressful and exhausting things that I do. Whether it is short travel like a few hours’ drive, or long travel like a week away from home, it is an energy depleter. That means the only way to get through it successfully is to make sure you are at 100 percent charge when you begin.
The day before travel is as mandatory a recharge day for me, as are the one to two days I will require upon return. A five-day trip for most is a seven-day trip to me. I must literally put the recharge days in my calendar because to schedule otherwise means mistake or failure is guaranteed.
Again, for an autistic, recharge time is NOT an option, but it can be anticipated and scheduled. If you take the time to learn your needs, look for the clues that you might be depleted as well as when you have a full tank, and you schedule in your required recharge days, you can live a fully charged life.
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