Dealing with change as an autistic young person
Like most autistic people, change affects me a lot, especially in scenarios where I’ve been told about an event (such as a day out) and I’ve found out just before or even during the event that what I thought was going to happen has changed (such as a schedule change). I get anxious and unsure of myself, as I’ve almost always been mentally preparing myself for the order that I’ve been told things will happen in, which is why I like to be notified about an event and the details surrounding it well beforehand. Too many changes to what I expect offsets everything for me and makes me feel anxious and that I need to restart with my mental preparation.
The COVID-19 lockdowns were one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced, mainly due to having to deal with the sudden amount of change. It felt my entire life structure was being taken away from me and not knowing how long these changes would last made me deeply anxious. The constantly changing rules also affected me as I would slowly be readjusting to a changing rule, only to have it scrapped later, which made me feel really frustrated. I had always struggled with communicating over texts and over phone as I could not rely on what I knew about reading body language and tones of voice, and instead had to guess how I thought people felt.
How to manage anxiety when dealing with change
My advice if you’re facing a lot of change, as cliche as it sounds, is simply find out what works best for you, it will help you in the long run, and be helpful for other people around you so they know how to support you. If you have an activity that usually calms you down in other stressful moments, it’s maybe best to try that (such as listening to music). I always find honing in on a special interest also helps as you’re so focused on that one thing, a lot of the anxiety steps away for a bit, but it’s really up to you.
For me personally, the support I’d like from others when there is change going on around me, is to talk to me about something I’m interested in. This can help my anxiety take a step back for a bit and make me relax, since my anxiety is usually heightened in periods of change. It also helps me if people use “tone indicators” when communicating with me over messages as it means I don’t have to think and guess what the person is feeling and whether they might be ok with talking to me.
Focusing on what I can control
I think it’s important to have a routine when change is going on as it can help lower anxiety and stress levels, and make you feel in control even if you aren’t in control of the situation around you. Of course, this is different for different people as some people can find a strict routine restrictive and it can even cause more stress, so it’s a good skill to know what’s best for you.
The way I focus on what I can control is finding a relaxing activity to do, such as listening to music or playing games online. I also sometimes do this whilst talking to a group of friends I have who are always there with good advice. This can help put me in the right mindset to make whatever sized steps I need to help myself cope with change.
About the author
Harvey was diagnosed with autism in 2006 at the age of three. After masking his autism for over a decade he has now decided that he wants to be completely open about it and how it affects him. He also wants to help campaign for better autism awareness teaching in school and work environments. Outside of campaigning for autistic people, Harvey enjoys listening to music, watching movies, and editing.