If you’ve heard one thing about autistics, it’s that we love a routine.
Professionals who work with people on the spectrum are famous for picture schedules, first-then boards, and adherence to routine. However, many autistics still struggle even when presented with this “routine” we allegedly cherish. Cue the transition items, social stories, timers, and prompts.
But, I realized something.
The neurotypical routine is bound by time.
What makes a good routine?
A quick glance in the literature confirms that routines make us happier, healthier, and more satisfied with life. Researchers have found that routines help people to achieve what’s known as flow — being fully immersed in an activity with no concept of space, time, or anything around you.
However, when talking about a routine, time is ever-present.*
At 7, we:
At 7:30, we:
At 8, we:
At 8:23, we:
Time-based routines are hell on our neurology; autistic routines are based on flow and sensory experience. I can lose myself for hours just watching the sunlight dancing between the leaves.
I love the warmth of my mug pressed against my lips, inhaling the rich scent of my black coffee.
I love the endless pattern of the beat of a song.
I love the flutter in my heart when my husband walks in the door at 3:30.
It’s not the 3:30 I need, it’s the interoceptive stimuli of my heart happy-flapping because he walks in the door.
Routines, for me, are based on the experience of something. The completion of something. The beginning of something. Time is a structural barrier to these experiences.
If you disrupt my routine, it’s painful.
If I’m not done with the experience, and you rip it from me, I become fearful.
It makes it difficult for me to start, to engage, to lose myself.
It makes it impossible for me to tap into one of the most beautiful, immersive aspects of being autistic.
It denies me the opportunity to fully realize my identity.
Autistics move in their own time and space.
Yes, routines are important. But not in the way you think.
Let us stim. Let us be lost; when we seem lost to you, we are only finding ourselves. It may not make sense within the temporal constraints of a neurotypical society, but it’s a necessary experience for the divergent.