A love of novelty

It’s quite a well-known fact that Autistic people dislike change, so much so that many have been know to meltdown at the idea of any change to their routine. Autistic people prefer routine because it’s safe and predictable, you know what’s going to happen, when and how. There’s less anxiety because there are fewer unknown factors. This may be the reason why some Autistic people prefer the one friend as opposed to many, because it’s easier to socialise when there are less changes and it’s easier to remember the details of one person over many.

So why then do PDAers find routine and predictability to be a greater cause of anxiety than changes and novelty?

My thoughts are that, for PDA people, if you know what is going to happen then it allows anxiety to build up, you know what’s going to happen and if nearly everything makes you anxious then knowing what’s about to happen will make you more anxious.

So why doesn’t unpredictability cause more anxiety than predictability?

For me I know it’s because I have difficulty imagining what’s about to happen. When I go to the dentist without knowing why then I can only imagine what might happen based on past experience. But us PDAers are ever hopeful and so we can pretend that this time will be different, there’s room for unpredictability so we can use our imaginations to make out like nothing bad will happen at all, we might not even make it to the dentist, who knows? However, if we know what’s about to happen, for example, knowing I have to have an injection to have teeth out, then I will be anxious, imagining the whole process and how it will hurt. There’s little room for escape. We PDAers are good at escape, we’re super avoiders. So the more we are boxed in the greater our anxiety will be.

There is some comfort in routine for us, if the routine we have is safe. If we’ve done the same thing a million times and nothing bad has happened our anxiety can ease off a little. Unfortunately even the slightest negative experience can create unbearable anxiety around a routine, and it can be easy for us to have a negative experience from almost anything.

Demands also can be easier to take when there has been some change or novelty introduced. Some parents have commented on how changing the time of certain demands such as bathing and brushing teeth can ease the anxiety around the demand and make it easier for the child to complete. Many have found introducing something different to the demand such as a novelty toothbrush and fun bath toys to be helpful. Whereas for many Autistic people these changes would produce anxiety and cause meltdowns, for PDA people they actually seem to help. I can attest to this, I find it much easier to eat meals in cafes and restaurants because the food is different to what I’m used to. Eating the same food everyday would make me ill and has caused me to strongly avoid the demand of eating for a long time. Trying new foods, variations of meals, new drinks and different locations to eat in all help me to eat regularly. Similarly, there’s nothing I like better at bath time than trying a new bath bomb or new bubble bath. Small changes like taking a different route into town can make a shopping trip easier to bare.

Of course every PDAer is different and some do find changes to make their anxiety worse while others cannot stand doing the same thing twice in the same day at all. Others find a mix of routine and changes to work best. It can take some time and much trial and error to work out what’s best for each individual and what may work for one won’t necessarily work for another. Some changes can help for a long time whereas others may be a one-time thing. For me the biggest cause of anxiety around a lack of change is in regards to food. If I could try a new food or variation of an old one for every meal then I would be happy. If I could eat in different places everyday then I would be more content. It is very difficult for me to start each day with the same bowl of cereal, breakfast is one of the hardest meals to include change in for me, one of the reason I love staying in hotels and having a continental breakfast.

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6 thoughts on “A love of novelty”

  1. Very interesting. I dislike routines set by other people. And agree with you over the food and eating out. But I dont like surprises much. Like, I hate not knowing what’s inside wrapping of my Christmas presents! And I like spoilers and knowing what’s going to happen in a movie and how it ends. And I always walk into town the exact same way, but this is because its the shortest route with least roads to cross. I do need routines to keep on track of housework, but that’s more a tool than a rigid thing.

  2. With my partner, I find that he can impulsively rush headlong into something new as though it is almost freedom from his daily exhaustion and some miracle. Hard to say whether he’s seeing surreal potential in the new or he is fleeing to escape the prison of the old. He often also wishes for “fresh starts” when things get hard and he doesn’t feel he is capable of performing well in his current situation. However, the opposite can also be true – routines he finds himself good at, he likes and can stay with endlessly. It is less about how easy or hard something is, and more about whether he believes he was able to “perform” well in it.

    This has created unexpected areas of sheer brilliance including things like caring for my disabled son. It is simple, son loves it, he loves my son, I appreciate the break and he will willingly embrace those routine tasks with no sense of being bored by them. Some days I think he is more attached to my son than me (and vice versa) – but then he has also stated that his barriers of anxiety don’t extend to children – whom he doesn’t see as threats.

    He has been able to substantially contribute to a social cause we both support by taking up simple and specific tasks (they do exhaust him at times, but they have also transformed his self confidence and given him a sense of authority) because of responsibility he takes on and has actually been on TV debates to represent our perspective. It has also given him a social circle of like minded people who definitely accept him – which has helped with social anxieties as well. This sort of confidence was unthinkable a few years ago.

    Similar, specific areas of demands embraced appear in various areas. A common theme appears to be that he does something for someone else that is appreciated. He will not tire of those routines.

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