Strategies and helpful work-arounds for everyday living – part 1
I have mentioned before that sometimes autism comes with additional difficulties that others do not face, or whose solution is taken for granted by most people. I thought it would be worth sharing a few of the things I have found helpful over the years.
Tip 1 – Write it down
My short-term memory varies hugely from excellent, to forgetting what I was about to say about a second after I thought of it. It’s the reason why I often struggle not to interrupt other people and why I am frequently frustrated with myself.
Funnily enough, it took me years to realise that my memory was so unreliable because I developed a strategy very early on in my school life of writing everything down. I was taking notes on what to do a long time before I knew it was performing a useful function. This had the added bonus when I was a temp (shortly after graduating from my BA) of making me look super-efficient, when actually it was a tactic to ensure that I didn’t need to ask the same questions every few minutes!
The only time this is not such a great tip is when I am actually in a conversation, when I am obviously not able to write anything down. I’m still working on an alternative – I’ll keep you posted!
Tip 2 – Write a shopping list out in the order you find things in the supermarket
Obviously this is a tip for the adults amongst you rather than the children, but it could equally be applied in other areas. I always take a shopping list, otherwise I get distracted and forget what I went in for, and / or get lots of impulse buys that we don’t necessarily need. I find that unless I am following the list in more or less the same order that I come across things, I forget those items as I have to check the list for things that I have yet to find. I suppose another tactic would be to take a pen and cross things off as I put them into the trolley, but I prefer not to add the co-ordination confusion of carrying a pen as well as a list, pushing a trolley, and adding the shopping as well.
So before I go shopping I always rewrite the list on a new piece of paper to follow the route I will be taking through the supermarket. It helps that I know more or less where to find things in the two shops I most frequently go food shopping in. I will be writing more about organisation and routine in the second blog post of workarounds.
Tip 3 – Recognise what may cause sensory overwhelm
I have found that I get overwhelmed by bright lights, loud music, and too much choice / too many decisions to make. So here are my top tips on sensory overwhelm:
a) Wear headphones when needed – I found the music in our giant local Asda was just too much to cope with, so I bring my headphones and play my own choice of music instead. It helps me to relax and sometimes even makes me forget that I was feeling stressed at all.
b) If brightness is too much, consider wearing sunglasses or tinted lenses to take the edge off it. I often drive in my sunglasses even when it isn’t all that sunny as I find it easier to see and it helps my concentration.
c) Remember that too much choice or too many decisions can be overwhelming. One thing I have struggled with is the sheer amount decisions I need to make when food shopping, especially if I have gone with anyone else. I have found two workarounds for this: to order the bigger food shops online, and to always go shopping alone and with a detailed list.
Tip 4 – Think about sensory aids to calm you
I have found that a few things help me to relax, especially a weighted blanket over my legs and ankles. I also like to listen to repetitive sounds such as rainfall, waves crashing, or quiet music. My daughter calms by chewing a silicone unicorn pendant. I also have a fidget ring which I wear in place of my wedding ring. It’s golden and the top layer spins round. It helps me to calm down if I need to.
When I am anxious, I like to squish or stroke a furry pompom in my coat pocket – I just bought a cheap one that’s supposed to go on a key ring.
Tip 5 – Stay hydrated and eat regularly
Some autistic people, including me, may have an underactive sense of interoception. This is the internal sense that tells you about needs within your body such as hunger, thirst, needing the toilet, etc. In my case, I do not always know when I am hungry as I only get the signal to eat when I am ravenous and have extremely low blood sugar levels. Instead, I get drowsy or very grumpy.
I have worked around this by trying to eat meals at more or less the same time every day, regardless of whether or not I feel hungry, and by keeping a drink of water nearby (and actually remembering to drink some of it!). In cases of not knowing when to go to the loo, always going before a meal and just before bed may help – in becoming a habit, it can ensure that enough toilet trips are made throughout the day.
I hope that some of you will find these strategies helpful. In my next blog post, I will talk about strategies for organising and routine.