Sunday, January 12, 2014

Transitions: a problem experienced by both autistic adults and autistic children

This blogger can happily say with openness, that transitions are really hard.

Each every spatial change of scenery, each change of expectations, each evolution in standards for performance, all of these things cause a lot of extra stress for Autistic people.

A good way to deal with transitions is to be willing to go really slowly during the beginning of one's adaptation.

Another good way to deal with transitions is to try to find activities to engage in that help to refamiliarize.

Some Autistic people are not satisfied by many transition rituals used in broader society, thus we sometimes carry more spread out anxiety.

Anxiety and adjustment to a new place or location or situation requires constant alteration of sensory expectations.

We have to get used to new levels of background loudness, to new formulae of action to help satisfy our various needs at various times.

These sensory and social readjustments seem to happen much slower for people on the spectrum.

I say this in order to describe the troubling difficulties of this author in transitioning out of undergraduate and into adulthood (with all the responsibilities that come with that).

Thus, it is rational for autistics who are transitioning to try to keep certain things fairly similar to how they were.

If the location has to change, then make some of the foods stay the same. If the clothing has to change, make other things seem familiar.

Some of the most intense Autistic anxiety arrives when many changes have to be adjusted to and there is no clear way for things to remain *thinkable*. And when I say thinkable, I mean the details of one's life being able to be predicted, expected, knowable.


  1. Thank you for posting this. One of the hardest things to explain to schools is the need for our children to handle transitions slowly and carefully. End of lesson, end of playtime, end of term etc.
    They insist on changing the routine at the end of term to the joy of the NT kids and the anguish of the ASD kids.
    Good advice about keeping as much as possible the same when you can't avoid change, we aim for this at home, sometimes deliberately making small changes to get my son used to things being different occasionally.

  2. thank you for your insights! I have a son on the spectrum, and we do struggle with this. It is exacerbated by the fact that I (and my husband) have ADHD and so it is hard for us to create and maintain that kind of consistency, which requires a lot of advance planning and "staying on the ball." thus, we probably have more transitions than we SHOULD, yet it is a struggle for us to avoid them. This is really helpful food for thought.

  3. I was very fortunate in that, for me, getting out of undergraduate was a godsend. I don't have significant problems with transitions per se, but they can be hard for a host of secondary reasons - suddenly I'm required to rely on executive functioning I don't have, mainly. This can cause me to engage in addictive behaviors, to forget important obligations, to become paralyzed with indecision, etc. In this way I suppose I have just as much ADHD traits as Autistic ones (can I diagnose myself with neurodivergence-NOS? My official diagnosis is PDD-NOS).

    Getting out of school helped this because I was recruited for a job in software development (I have significant gifts as well as deficits) at a company with a good work-life balance on a fairly consistent, loving small team. It was hard to adjust to at first but almost immediately my worst problems began to go away.

    I now had the same schedule every weekday, and work was one solid block that took up nearly 11 hours if you took my initial long walk + bus commute into account. This schedule continued indefinitely, without the semesterly changes, spring/fall/winter/summer breaks, and multi-hour-periods between classes that were all potential (or usual) breakdown points for me during college and before. I now only had one role to concentrate on instead of one for every class. I've been at the same job now for as long as approximately 4 semesters would take. I see a small handful of people every day instead of hundreds spread out in groups of dozens on different days at different times.

    My anxieties are greatly reduced: I no longer worry about money or that I won't be able to survive once I graduate or if I fail out of school; I don't have the social anxiety caused by being extremely isolated and/or around hundreds of strangers on campus; I don't have to struggle and usually fail to work on assignments at home; if I fail to go to the grocery store or cook, I have enough money and transportation options to eat out; the consistency of my schedule prevents ill-timed or multi-days-without-sleeping-and-barely-eating media binges to a large degree; my boss and other coworkers are older adults who can give me life skills advice and help out and aren't emotionally abusive like my parents tend to be; my main social role (as a teammate and employee) is well-defined and doesn't involve much guesswork over whether I should be talking to someone; and I work in an industry where people aren't expected to act "normal," at a company that recruited me for one aspect of my neurodivergence without necessarily expecting the giftedness to come without "quirks".

    I say all this not to derail from the OP's points, but because I know it's possible for other Autistic people struggling with transitions and other stressors in school to become a lot less stressed in the right environment after school. I always believed that because of the depth of my struggles (and disabillity) in school, that I wouldn't be able to hold a job after I graduated. This was worse in my worries because I figured I'd be perceived as too functional to qualify for assistance--my disability has always seemed invisible to other people, and I got my diagnosis as an adult and couldn't get my college's disability coordinator to treat me with respect and help me procure accommodations. I also know that people with anxiety (what I identified as my main problem during my school year) can be made sick by work. Luckily it turned out to be the opposite--my job's the only support I need to support myself. I don't want other Autistic individuals to give up on themselves prematurely based on struggles in the school environment, or a sub-par home or work environment.

  4. (cont'd)
    As a sidenote, I've had to move twice since graduating but still live within walking distance of my undergrad college and walked to the grocery store I went to throughout college just this evening, to get familiar food at a familiar place. So I do second the attempt to control how many changes at once! I found that when I first moved (further away from that grocery store than I was before and am again now), I had a lot of trouble with daily tasks, like feeding myself, since all my old patterns were now impossible. I would lie around doing absolutely nothing more often because of that, like without the habits I had no direction or motivation and couldn't start working on life problems, much less figure them out. It was actually similar when I finally got a driver's license a few months ago--at first it was actually harder to get food or attend an event or social activity because I couldn't make sense of my changed transportation options. I'm glad the OP described these challenges because now that I recognize that pattern, I might be more prepared for it and figure out how to avoid some of the aimlessness.

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