Thursday 19 October 2017

Routines in everyday life

One of the most obvious signs of autism is the need for specific routines and structures, often for pretty much everything, however small, and when those routines get disrupted for whatever reason, everything after that goes horribly wrong. I have a specific structure and routine for everything I do in day-to-day life, and if that varies, things don't turn out so well. Some of these routines aren't an issue for NTs and if there's a slight difference from the usual way they do something, there are no problems. To NTs,  these are little things.

That's not the case for autistics.

In the evening, my husband and I have a cup of tea and watch an episode of something before bed. He has normal tea and I have peppermint tea. I've been drinking peppermint tea as a bedtime drink for almost 13 years now, so now my body takes it as a cue that it's time to mentally and physically start shutting down and preparing for sleep. The structure goes thus:
  1. Put water in kettle and turn kettle on
  2. Put out the two mugs side-by-side, his on the left, mine on the right
  3. Put normal teabag in his mug and peppermint teabag in mine (always the same mugs)
  4. Get two teaspoons out and place by the side of the mugs
  5. While kettle is boiling, check front door (it has to be manually locked; it's not an automatic lock) and put the chain across if it hasn't already been done (while we're very much in the habit of locking the door behind us once we're in, if we're distracted, such as desperately needing the toilet, it doesn't always happen)
  6. If kettle still hasn't boiled, tidy sink area
  7. When kettle has boiled, pour water into the mugs, Gideon's first, then mine
  8. When tea has brewed, remove teabags, put milk and sugar in Gideon's, and take through to the living room
It's quite a lot of steps when you break it down like that! I have a tendency to do that, probably from my days as an occupational therapy student (it's essential that OTs are able to do this, in order to identify the specific steps of the process with which a patient or service user has difficulty, and what that difficulty is), and also I need to for this particular blog post in order to demonstrate the autistic experience.

But sometimes that specific routine goes differently, and here are the outcomes from previous occasions when I've deviated from that precise structure:
  • Putting the mugs out before putting water in the kettle meant I forgot to turn the kettle on so wondered why, after a good ten minutes, I hadn't heard the kettle boil
  • Putting Gideon's mug on the right and mine on the left led to the normal teabag going in my mug and the peppermint one in his, which then led to me putting milk and sugar in the peppermint tea (not a pleasant taste!)
  • Using completely different mugs (the usual ones had been used by guests and had yet to be washed up) threw me so badly I didn't know whose mug was whose, although I was somewhat rescued from that because the Sainsbury's normal teabags are round and the Twining's peppermint teabags are rectangular, so I had the visual cue to work from, enabling me to rescue the situation
  • On one occasion I didn't check the front door while the kettle was heating up so we discovered the next morning that our door had been unlocked all night with no chain across - so anyone could have wandered in!
  • I've gone and checked the door before putting the teabags in the mugs, which led to there being no teabags when I poured water into the mugs, and because I'd been and checked the door, my body and brain assumed the teabags were in the mugs
  • Once I poured the water into my mug before Gideon's - and so I didn't pour any water into his mug! That one was rectified almost immediately, when I looked into the mug and realised the absence of water, but still, it happened
Another thing for which I need to follow the same routine every time is getting dressed. Because I'm fairly highly-educated (I have a Master's degree) people assume I don't have problems with what's known in the OT circle as ADL (Activities of Daily Living), but that routine is essential to me to ensure everything gets done.

My dressing routine goes thus:
  1. Underwear (bra then knickers)
  2. Top
  3. Trousers/skirt
  4. Socks (in summer I often forgo this step, as I tend to wear sandals)
  5. Jumper/hoodie/cardigan/etc
But if I put trousers or a skirt on before a top, I forget to put the top on. On several occasions I've moseyed around for a few minutes before realising my upper body is a bit cold, and only then does it dawn on me that I have no top on, just my bra! It's not such an issue if I notice before I wander into the kitchen, but if the blind is up in the kitchen, anyone glancing in gets a view of me in my underwear! It's also less of an issue now because the only person I live with is my husband; previously, I lived with one female now-ex-friend and one male friend, so my poor male housemate on several occasions nearly had the semi-topless view (I'm glad for his sake that this never happened; I noticed either before I got too far out of my room or it was on days when he was already out).

When I'm going out, if it's cooler/wet, I need to put my shoes on before a coat. Because if, as I discovered on Monday (perhaps "rediscovered" as I'm certain this isn't the first time it's happened; Monday is just fresh in my memory?), I put the coat on first, I will forget to put my shoes on. This leads to me being halfway to the car before realising I still have my slippers on! This is because the act of putting my coat on means my brain assumes I have already put my shoes on.

It's not just these two things; they're just two examples of my daily life and I could easily give many more! And it's not just me; this is standard for autistics.

When I get interrupted mid-routine, it really throws me. If I'm in the middle of certain activities, please let me see them through and don't interrupt me. Please let me finish. Please don't be offended or take it personally if I don't respond until I have finished that routine.

I used to refer to this as "ditziness"/"being a ditz" because it seemed to fit the meaning, but now I know I'm autistic, I've come to realise that it's because of this.

I do think there's an over-pathologising of autistic people's behaviours in some cases, but in this case it's definitely part of the autism.

The routines and structures are necessary to enable us to live our lives. They don't cause harm, they help us. Be respectful of that and accept that.