My 7 Must-Haves as an Autistic Adult
Being an autistic adult is not easy. Most of us are not well-equipped to keep up with bills, errands, and work while also handling the overwhelm and overload that we get from the world. If we’re going to function well and be happy, it’s important that we give ourselves the supports we need. Here are my seven personal must-haves for me to be comfortable and well-functioning in my life.
1. Soft fuzzy blankets
I LOVE soft fuzzy things. They are my all-time favorite tactile stim. I have a leopard print fleece blanket that lives on the back of my couch for easy everyday stimming. If I need a bit more variety, I have another blanket that has soft shag fur on one side and a sort of velvety microfiber on the other. These aren’t just for self-soothing or preventing meltdowns, of course. Soft fuzzies make me happy, regardless of my stress level. Running my hand over the blanket when I walk by the couch or as I’m watching tv acts as a stabilizer, keeping me in a good zone so I don’t risk a meltdown.
I never go anywhere without my sunglasses. My eyes are actually pretty light sensitive, and more so since I had LASIK, but I use my shades to block out more than light. When I’m wearing sunglasses, strangers almost never try to talk to me and nobody can tell that I’m not making eye contact. It takes a lot of pressure off. I even wear them indoors for some quick errands. Those dark lenses create a simple line of defense between me and the rest of the world that makes a big difference in my comfort level.
Living alone, I have to handle everything myself, which means I have to stay on top of things. I am not good at this. So I have multiple whiteboards dedicated to my weekly schedule, my grocery list, errands that need running, and anything else I can think of. Two of them live on my freezer door, with a cup of dry erase markers, so I can write things down as soon as I think of them. Grabbed the last jar of curry out of the pantry? Two steps away I can grab a marker and put it on the grocery list. Scheduled an appointment? It goes on the weekly calendar!
4. Color Coding
Along with those whiteboards, I use different colored markers for different purposes. When everything is the same color, it all tends to run together in my head, turning into a kind of amorphous blob of information that I can’t sort out. Different colors get me to think in categories – blue for things to buy and places to go, green for things to do, black for notes (I’d prefer to use red for places to go, but that marker’s tip got squished and it doesn’t write well now). If I need to categorize information – say, a list of blog posts, for instance – I’ll always use colors: highlighters on paper, colored cells in a spreadsheet, or colored text in a document. Any of those will allow my brain to recognize differences.
5. My Launchpad
My launchpad is an idea that I got from the wonderful Marla Cilley at FLYLady. It’s a deceptively simple idea: put everything you need to leave the house with in one place near the door, and put it all back there when you come back home. So easy, right? It completely stymies the executive functioning problems that used to make me drop my purse and keys wherever and then wind up losing them. All I had to do was hang up a pretty set of hooks and clear off the end of my sideboard and voila! Because it’s all right there at the door, I only had to train myself to drop everything as soon as I walk in. Now I come in, hang up my keys, drop my purse on the sideboard, and I know where everything is!
How much do I love my fidgets? I was absolutely obnoxious about them as a kid, and I’ve been told more than once by coworkers to stop clicking my pens or making my chair squeak. The thing is, I can’t do just one thing at a time. I have to do something with my hands; it helps me think, it keeps me calm, it allows me to focus. I love clicky pens, but I don’t mean to actually click them – I just want to play within the limits of the spring. A friend gave me a fidget cube with lots of different options on it. My favorite parts are the cold, smooth trackball and the thumb joystick. Hoodie strings are great fidget toys, too! You can pull them, twist them, roll them up, bite them, whatever you want. Stimtastic has some great looking fidgets and stim toys, and they’re totally affordable! I’ve only used the Boinks fidget, but I intend to try out some more of their stuff and hopefully, I’ll have some reviews to share. If you’re familiar with them, please give me your thoughts in the comments.
My routines are so very important to my functioning! The great thing about my routines is that, once they become automatic, they free up so much mental energy for dealing with the world and life in general. It’s amazing how the smallest thing can throw that off. When I drove a loaner car for two days, I was so out of my element that I couldn’t cope with much of anything. The slightest amount of stress set me into meltdown territory. That was a real wake up call for me, and after that, I not only appreciated my routines more, but I actively tried to create more routines so that I could give myself even more energy to navigate the world.
I had to learn all these assistive coping strategies over time. I spent years trying various time management and organization techniques and failing at most of them. Truthfully, I still fail at the ones I use sometimes. But these are the comfort and function supports that currently work best for me, and I hope some of them work for you, too.
What are your biggest challenges as an autistic adult? What are your must-have supports? Do you find that you need more function support or comfort support?