Here is an area that I think society should learn to be tolerant and understanding of people with Autism. It is our way of coping in a very confusing and unpredictable world. I am talking about routines.
It isn’t that I think people should bend over backwards to ensure that the order of our lives is never disrupted, but to understand that we need proper warning of necessary changes (and it would help if we could have some say in them, if possible) and to recognize that there are times in our lives that asking for change will be too much for us to handle.
Take my previous job, for instance. I worked at the front desk of a medium sized motel in town; perhaps a surprising job for a person with social anxiety disorder, a verbal expressive disorder, and autism; most of the time, however, I could do my job well.
After being taught the job, I was pretty much on my own. I worked alone, and was able to form my own routine that worked quite well. I am decently good at time management, and nearly always got everything done during my shifts.
Because I had my routine, and just about always did things in the same order (we also had to do laundry, clean some rooms, stock up for or attend to breakfast, clean the parking lot, take care of the pool and hot tub, and more) it was rare that I forgot any part of my job. However, if I was asked to go outside of that order, I would almost always forget something, and become very anxious.
This need for routine is even important even in the way I get to and from work. One day – and this is actually the reason I went to get tested for Autism to begin with – my husband asked me to get gas in the van before work. It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request, but it was so out of my routine, and caused such anxiety, that I went into full meltdown on the spot. I was ready to quit my job, and even considered leaving my husband (whom I do very much love) all over a request to slightly change my routine in going to work.
Now I did end up going to work that day, because it would have been even harder for me to explain why I didn’t go. I did not end up leaving my husband. I did get through it – but only because the gas tank was still over half, and I decided not to get more. But it was a very challenging day, and almost cost me far more than it was worth. I needed a way to explain to my husband why I can’t handle him springing things on me like that, and why I had such a huge reaction to such a small request.
Having a routine also helps me in working with people, which a lot of the time is hard for me. I struggle to speak to them. I have processing issues in hearing them if there is a lot of background noise. I do not do small talk well. I can’t handle unpredictability… there are so many barriers to me working well with the public, and it causes me a lot of anxiety.
What helped in this job, though, was that I had a script to work off of. A script I used in answering the phone, taking reservations, signing people into their rooms, and checking them out. I knew my job, the rules and regulations that we were to follow there. If I could keep to my script, I could do my job well.
I am a very anxious person, and there was not a day that I went to work that I didn’t feel anxious. What determined at the end of the day whether it was a decent day (and I could calm down) or a challenging day (where my anxiety would increase, and it would be that much harder to return to work) was how frequently I was required to alter my routine, or go off of my script.
If people asked for breakfast early, or to have the pool open late, I couldn’t do it. These were our rules. This was my routine. I knew why those rules were in place, and I couldn’t work around them. Rigid, and inflexible, I know – but I couldn’t do my job any other way.
If someone called and said, “hey, how’s it going?” I would be completely thrown off. I don’t know the person – please, just tell me what you are calling for. Keep it professional. I can deal with professional. If someone tried to tell me a joke, I would feel really uncomfortable, and not know how to respond. I felt anxious for not understanding, and not finding them funny.
I could stick to the script. I could stick to the routine – but ask me to go beyond that, and I am lost and anxious.
Realistically I know it isn’t reasonable in that line of work to expect everyone to come in, get what they need, and leave. I can see that it was the wrong line of work for me, though I usually could do the job. I do think, however, that society in general could try to be a little more understanding when dealing with workers – after all, we really are doing the best that we can.
I am no longer working at this time. My anxiety became too debilitating, and my psychiatrist told me to leave my job. I love the routine I now have for myself while I am home, and am afraid to move outside of it.
My hope is that now that I know of my Autism, I can find work that is more suitable in my need for routine, and more understanding of my struggle with off script conversations with people while I work.