Autistic inertia

white and red panic alarm switch

A lot of us Autistic people struggle with switching from one activity to the next, and we often need a lot of prompts and reminders to finish what we are doing to start something else.

Personally, I like to have a similar routine every week so I know what my expectations are on any given day. It also makes organising for it a lot easier and less stressful. I am completely reliant on my diary and find it difficult to do more than one or two organised things a day (see What’s Spoons got to do with it?).

I’m in my 30s and still benefit from:

*Being told who will be at an event or situation.
*What to bring with me.
*What other people are likely to wear.
*How long it’ll be and whether there will be food and drinks.

I find surprises absolutely awful, even when they’re nice surprises, because I wasn’t given enough ‘prep time’ to process what was happening and what people expect me to react like. Its for reasons like this that I hate being sung Happy Birthday too – I just genuinely have no idea what to do with myself whilst people sing and stare at me!

Usually, I need at least 10-15 mins to transition from one thing to another. I also need a clear reason why I am switching like: ‘it’s lunchtime and you need to eat’. This may also be due to demand avoidance (see Why I struggle with demands).

The picture on Tendril Theory is probably the most accurate (though not quite scientific!) explanation I have found on transitions for Autistic people. It very much speaks to me on a personal level. This picture and idea was created by E is for Erin.

[Image description: a black and white comic book strip entitled Why its Hard to Switch Tasks (Let’s Call it Tendril Theory).
Panel1 &2: a person with a smiling face with extending curly tendrils from their head: ‘When I’m focused on something my mind sends out a million tendrils of thought’
Panel 3: a happy person with long tendrils: ‘expands into all the thoughts and feelings’.
Panel 4 & 5: a person with open eyes and extended tendrils with a new person next to them ‘when I need to switch tasks, I must retract all of the tendrils of my mind’. The tendrils slowly retract.
Panel 6 & 7: a person with small tendrils and a smile: ‘this takes some time’. They are now with the other person ‘eventually I can shift to the new task’.
Panel 8 & 9: long tendrilled person with a new person by their side demanding their attention ‘but when I am interrupted or must switch abruptly, it feels like all of the tendrils are being ripped out’. The person  now has their tendrils ripped out.
Panel 10 & 11: the de-tendrilled person has a confused and irritated face with a question mark above their head  ‘that’s why I don’t react well’.
Panel 12 & 13: ‘Please just give me time to switch tasks when I am ready’ the picture show a person with medium length tendrils, retracting their tendrils completely and smiling.]

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