By Lyric Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel
Since finding out I’m Autistic at the age of 29, my life has been in a constant state of change. Many of the changes have been good. Some of the changes have been bad.
I’ve changed how I see myself, changed my way of life, changed my career, moved into an RV, came out nonbinary, changed my name, lost a job due to layoffs during the first lockdown, and relaunched my own consulting and training company all in a very short period.
Change after change, keeping me on my toes.
Change is important because it is the cornerstone of all major events in life. It allows us to move forward, and evolve. Change is where new life experiences and lessons are found, when we stop actively working to learn, grow, and change, we may become stuck and our lives stagnant.
Changes, whether exciting, hard, good, bad, tend to be moments of learning and growth.
I’m an Autistic Buddhist, so I have an interesting relationship with change.
On one hand, due to my Buddhist beliefs, I understand that change is a necessary and unavoidable part of life. Change is one of the only things in life that is guaranteed. Nothing is permanent. If things suck right now, wait long enough and things will eventually change. Also, because change is inevitable and nothing is forever, it’s important we stop and appreciate the good times, since they are also temporary.
Despite my logical understanding of the importance that change has in our lives, my Autistic brain often doesn’t handle change well, making surprises and new situations one of my biggest obstacles in life.
The logical part of my brain wants to embrace change, but there is a part of me that has a knee-jerk reaction to the unforeseen, struggling with change, even if the change is something I want or is something that would be considered a “good change”. The type of change doesn’t matter, change is change, and when changes happen, I need time and space to adjust to them, often a lot more time than non-autistic people would require.
When people surprise me unplanned meetings, phone calls, plan changes, or requests that feel like demands, I can melt or shut down, unable to process the change, especially if it was sudden or unexpected request or change.
I have my routines and I stick to them. I plan out my days carefully. This bit of control brings me calm in a world that is often chaotic and overwhelming. Predictability helps with my anxiety and knowing what’s coming next acts as an anchor and not knowing what comes next wears me down, stressing me out.
“I told someone recently, that having my plans changed by someone else feels as if I had everything laid out nicely in front of me on an Etch-a-Sketch, and someone’s come along and shaken my plans away, leaving me with no vision, and lost and confused about what is happening next.”
Many Autistic people will relate to this struggle, because the difficulties in dealing with surprises, change, and unforeseen events are so well documented, that they can be found in the diagnostic criteria for Autism as “Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines… (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat same food every day).”
If we have a decreased tolerance for change, as many neurodivergent people do, we can often feel distressed when experiencing new demands placed upon us by our environments, because many of us are already operating at maximum capacity. This means even small changes can be taxing, especially when we’re forced beyond the limits we’ve been teetering on.
So, what can we do if a change is hard for us?
How do we manage ourselves when things feel uncertain? In bad times, I remind myself that troubles are all temporary, and when things are in flex, I make sure to take extra time to slow down for self-care.
I’ve permitted myself to say “NO” to last-minute requests for meetings, stopped answering surprise phone calls, and have taken back control over the influence other people have in my life.
For years I did things because I thought it was what was expected of me. Now, since learning I’m Autistic, I’m finally learning to say no to situations that don’t suit me. I also respect that I can only handle so much change at once or risk severe consequences to my mental and physical health.
Some changes we can control, some we can’t.
Losing my job due to COVID-19 last September was one of the hardest and one of the BEST changes ever in my life. It’s not a choice I would have made on my own, but it has allowed me to focus my attention and efforts on tasks I love, such as writing and teaching about autism, ADHD, LGBTQIA+ issues, and neurodiversity.
I love writing and always have. It’s one of my greatest passions. Since early. 2019, I’ve been writing the Asking Autistics column for Geek Club Books as a way to showcase the diversity of Autistic voices in our online community.
“I’ve enjoyed this task greatly over the years; however, recently, I’ve been notified of another change that’s out of my control – Geek Club Books will be closing its doors soon, and this will be the last piece I write for the charity.”
Though I’m mourning the loss of my monthly writing tasks, I’m honored to have been a part of Geek Club Books for nearly three years. They were one of the very few organizations amplifying autistic voices when I started blogging five years ago, and I’m sure the charity will be missed.
I sincerely want to thank everyone, from Jodi and the team at Geek Club Books, the autistic people, who allowed me to quote them for my articles, and a special thank you to the readers of this column while it was running.
This is not goodbye; it’s I’ll see you around. It’s been fun.
Don’t forget that you can still read the thoughts of Autistic People online by searching and using the hashtag – #AskingAutistics.
See you on Twitter! Lyric @NeuroRebel