Strategies and helpful work-arounds for everyday living - part 2
Establishing and maintaining a routine, and organisation are things which have a big impact on my ability to function day to day. There are a number of things that have made a difference in my neurodivergent household:
Tip 1 – Have a place for the essentials that you stick to
Keeping my shoes in the same place all the time, and always having my bag in the same place really helps me to know that I won’t spend ages hunting for them in order to leave the house. We aren’t massively tidy, but we do try to keep our shoes, coats and bags in the same usual spots, and it helps us a lot.
Tip 2 - Lists, lists, lists
I love using lists. They help me to remember things a lot more easily as I respond better and remember things better when I have written them down. Even the act of writing helps my memory for some reason, and then having the list to refer to is good as well. Plus it is very satisfying being able to cross things off when they are completed or no longer needed.
Tip 3 – Visual schedules
When she was a little younger, my daughter responded really well to visual schedules. During lockdown we made our own to make home-schooling work for us. We attached a ribbon to our wall and wrote lots of different activities on little pieces of paper, and put them up on the ribbon using mini Christmas card pegs. We also had ones for her morning routine, such as reminding her to go to the toilet or brush her teeth. Now she is older, and at a school where they have an actual timetable, she has really found it helpful as she knows what is coming next and when.
Tip 4 – Calendars and diaries
I write everything down on our family calendar in our lounge. It helps all of us to know what is going on and to look at what we have coming up in the future. But recently I found that this was not enough as I needed to keep track of my daughter’s school events, and my own work meetings as well, and I kept forgetting. So I downloaded a calendar app to my phone called Time Tree, which I use to record everything for everyone’s movements plus my work calendar. I can allocate different colours to different types of events, so have one colour for my daughter, one for my husband, one for my work-related events, and one for my non-work. I can also set it to do reminders so that I don’t forget anything. It has already made a huge difference and has reduced how often I have a vague feeling that I have forgotten to do something important!
Tip 5 - Reminders in prominent places
I have recently bought some black vinyl which acts like a chalkboard surface, and put it up on our kitchen cupboards. This has enabled me to use one of the cupboard fronts as a reminder board so that my daughter brings the correct things to school each day – particularly P.E. or swimming kit. The other cupboard fronts have a list of what goes in that cupboard, so that everyone knows where everything belongs. This has helped all three of us. I also keep my regular medication, including my asthma inhaler, in a prominent place to remind me to take them.
Tip 6 – Pack your bag the night before
My dad always advised me growing up to pack my school bag the night before. I still find this incredibly helpful as I am terrible at mornings. I make packed lunches the night before and put them in the fridge, and I ensure that my daughter’s bag is packed with the things that she will need for school in the morning. I also leave any extra bags she will need, such as her swimming kit, next to her shoes, so that we can’t forget it. That way, even if I am hopelessly sleepy the next morning, everything will be ready to go.
Tip 7 – Perpetual shopping list
My husband and I have a shopping list which is on a magnetic pad on our fridge with a pencil attached. Whenever we notice that something is running out, or when we open the last of something, we add it to the shopping list. This helps me to know what we actually need when I go to the supermarket (see Part 1 for how I approach supermarket shopping).
Tip 8 – List of freezer foods
I keep a lot of lists going as it helps me to see what it what. Recently I went through our freezer and wrote down what we actually had in there, and attached it to the fridge-freezer with a magnet. Then when we have finished off something, I cross it off the list. This helps me to remember what we have in the freezer, as well as to keep track of our daughter’s particular foodstuffs.
Tip 9 – Meal planning
Related to the shopping and freezer lists, I have a wipeable weekly organiser which is on our fridge. I use it to plan meals for the week ahead. If I can get around to it on a Sunday (which doesn’t happen every week), it makes a big difference as it means we eat a wider variety of foods and allows for me to think of things we might like to have rather than just going straight ot the freezer and pulling out things that cook straight from frozen. I have been trying to get into the habit of batch cooking more often, which helps a lot as it means we have easy to reheat meals which are tasty and healthier than they might otherwise be.
Holiday planning (going away on holiday)
Tip 10 – Lots of lists!
I used to write a separate packing list for each person, which was very time-consuming and actually made me quite overwhelmed to look at. Then I realised that there are many things in common that we need to take. So I started writing a list in three columns instead. So for a 4 night stay, for example, I could write in each column: pants x4, t-shirts x4, swimming stuff, pyjamas, socks x4, etc. This helped a lot. I also write a list of the non-clothing things that we want to take, as writing lists helps me to organise things in my brain as well as being a visual I can refer back to.
Tip 11 – Arrive in time to settle in
My daughter settles down much better if she has had time to see where she will be sleeping, and where we will sleep, long before she has to go to bed. It’s become a vital part of our holiday routine that she has time to unpack her toys and play in her room so that it feels like hers.
Tip 12 – The first night is never a good night’s sleep
Our daughter never sleeps well on the first night of any holiday. Usually it’s due to being in a different bed, with different pillows, and the noise levels and other things being different. Usually she is a brilliant sleeper, but she can have real difficulties when away from home. It’s very frustrating but we have to accept this if we want to ever be able to go anywhere overnight.
Tip 13 – A visual calendar
Especially for the summer break, but also for the Easter and Christmas ones, we make a big chart showing all of the weeks of the holidays at once. This then enables us to plan days of activities and seeing people, as well as helping me to factor in days when we stay at home and relax as well. My daughter needs a lot of input, and I need alone time to function, so it can be difficult for both of us in different ways if we don’t know what to expect. Being able to see the entire holidays at once also helps to feel that we have some lovely things to look forward to.
There are several other writers out there who have written all kinds of helpful strategies for everyday life which you might find useful. One of these is the The Spectrum Girl's Survival Guide: How to Grow Up Awesome and Autistic by Siena Castellon. There is also a wealth of information on the website Autistic not Weird, and on the Bristol Autism Support website.
Laura Webb is a director of NeonDaisy