Change is an inevitable part of life. As much as we may try to push it away, it catches up with everyone eventually.
For autistic people, change can be incredibly unnerving and stressful. That isn’t to say that neurotypical people don’t have problems with stress, too, but from what I understand, it’s on a completely different level for autistic people. I think it definitely has something to do with how much autistic people hold onto routines and rituals in order to feel comfortable and able to go about their daily lives.
That’s definitely how it works for me. Knowing that change is inevitable and there’s nothing I can do to stop it doesn’t make it any easier when it comes to actually dealing with it. Even though I’ve been dealing with change all my life, I still find myself worrying that the rug will be pulled out from under me at any moment as the result of a change in the routine I’m comfortable with.
Unexpected changes, like realizing that something about my day is going to be different once it’s already started, can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety for me. Although I might seem unfazed on the outside, it’s almost certainly a different story in my head. Sometimes I shut down completely, my brain tuning out all information except things which are absolutely necessary.
Even expected changes, things that I’ve been told about well in advance, can lead to large amounts of anxiety and stress when they actually happen. Sometimes it’s because I’ve protected myself from the anxiety beforehand by pretending whatever’s changing isn’t going to happen for a long time. Sometimes, what I think will change and what actually changes are on different levels of intensity.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my attitude towards change and the way I deal with it in recent months, and it’s made me realise that I don’t react to all levels of change in the same way.
If I experience change where an element of a scenario changes but not all of it, then my anxiety is likely to be less than it would be if everything changed. For example, if I was in a different environment but I was surrounded by people that I already knew on a personal level, then I wouldn’t be so affected by the change as I would be if I knew nobody on top of being in a new environment. I’d definitely still get anxious about it, but not to the same degree that I would if the latter situation occurred.
This doesn’t mean, however, that I’m stuck in my rigid routines and have never had a spontaneous moment in my life, because I’ve had many. Usually, these spontaneous moments involve an element of control, so they might not be completely letting go, but they can still involve big changes.
One of the most spontaneous changes I like to make to my life involves my hair. The image to the left is an example of how much I changed my hair in just two days a few years ago, and it’s changed even more since then. In the past, I’ve cut in fringes, I’ve cut my hair from touching my thighs when I sit down to shoulder length, and I’ve dyed it almost every colour imaginable. At the moment, my hair is half-blue, half my natural colour, but that has more to do with how damaged it was as opposed to being sick of getting used to the change.
Even though I like the change when I redo my hair and like to call these sorts of changes positive changes, it still takes me time to get used to. For the first few days after trying out a new hair style, I’ll look in the mirror and be taken back for a moment at the reflection staring back at me. I may get slightly anxious at first, but that’s soon replaced by a feeling of happiness, because not all change is bad. It’s something I think I need to remind myself about more in future.
As with everything, change affects all autistic people differently, but I just wanted to take a moment to explain how it affects me. Do you have a story of when change has affected you, or can you relate to anything I’ve written? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Thanks for reading, and until next time,