Adulting for Autistics: Setting Your Own Limits

If you’re an autistic adult, you’ve probably been told what you can or can’t do a lot over the course of your life.  Even if you weren’t diagnosed as a child, you were probably different enough from your peers that parents or teachers tried to keep you out of certain situations or point you toward other activities.  As an adult, you may have family members, friends, or even romantic partners telling you not to go some places or when you need to leave, all without consulting you.  But you are an adult, and you know yourself best, and you can set your own limits.

A couple of weeks ago, I made plans to go to a small local music festival.  I knew it was going to be close to 100° that day, there would be lots of people, food, dogs, and music.  Those are not all necessarily my favorite things, but I really wanted to go.  Unfortunately, that morning, I woke up in a bad fibromyalgia flare – everything hurt and I knew that any amount of walking, especially in the heat, was going to run me into the ground.  It would have been so easy to say “I can’t go, it’s too much, I’ll just stay home”, and part of me wanted to do just that.  But then I imagined what I knew some of my friends and family would say to me: “you’ll have to walk too much, it’ll be too hot and too loud for you, you won’t be able to handle it”.

But I really wanted to go have some fun!  So instead of giving up, I changed my plans.  First, I decided I’d go just for an hour or so, before the day got too hot.  I took the right meds to knock down my pain levels as far as possible.  I followed my guidelines for navigating festivals while autistic – took time to find close parking, scouted out a quiet shady spot for decompression, stayed in the shade and drank plenty of water (also had a delicious black cherry snowball!), stayed a comfortable distance from both stages so I could enjoy the music without being overwhelmed.  I had a great time and got home without overdoing anything, all because I adapted my plans to my own limits instead of assuming I just couldn’t handle things.      

It’s About Balance and Awareness

If I’d listened to other people’s opinions of my capabilities that day, I would have missed out on a fun time.  But if I’d tried to prove that I could go all day, I would have been sunburned and burnt out very fast!  I still struggle with this from time to time – I hate people telling me what I can’t do and I want to prove them wrong so badly!  But I have to remember that I do have limits.  The key is to be aware of yourself and be honest about what you can tolerate.

It also helps to understand that your tolerances can change from day to day, and that’s ok!  Those with chronic illnesses will understand this especially well.  Some days you have more spoons, more energy to handle things, some days you have less.  Sometimes you can “save up” some extra energy for a special event by keeping a low profile or taking it easy for a few days beforehand.  But if you’ve been through a stressful time, even just for a day or two, your tolerance will be lower.  All of this is perfectly fine – you just have to be aware of where you are on any given day and plan accordingly.  Wherever your energy and tolerance levels are, it’s a good idea to plan some easy downtime after a challenging event, like maybe pick up dinner instead of cooking that evening or just spend some time relaxing with your favorite book or TV show. 

You Know You Best

The bottom line is you know yourself, your body, your brain, and your feelings better than anyone else.  Nobody else can tell you how you feel, what you can or can’t handle, or what is too much for you – no matter how well they may know you!  Part of being an adult is taking responsibility for your actions and reactions, and setting your own limits is one way to do that.  Knowing yourself and adapting plans to best suit you will let you enjoy all kinds of activities, from festivals to parties to shows and performances, without draining your coping resources, getting overwhelmed, or suffering burnout.

Adulting for Autistics Setting Your Own Limits

How did you learn to set your own limits as an adult?  Do other people often tell you “you can’t handle that” or “that’ll be too much for you”?  Do you have a success story to share about how you set your own limits and had a great time or did something you weren’t sure you could do?  I’d love to hear about it! 

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