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Safety in routines - Life with Asperger's Syndrome

One of the common traits of Asperger’s is a need for routines and knowing what’s happening next.  Like any traits of Autism, the need for routines varies from person to person, but we’re aware that T’s routines can sometimes almost tip over into looking like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).  It can be difficult for us to separate her need for orderliness, routine and repetition from possible OCD and the two conditions (Asperger’s and OCD) often go hand in hand.  She wasn’t diagnosed with OCD, and we’re hoping she doesn’t develop it as she gets older.  While we’re OK with some routines, especially if they keep her happy and calm, we’re always keeping a close eye on them to see how strange they might appear to outsiders, and how disruptive they are to her day.

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Her most obvious routine to us is her hair.  There’s a set order to how she can wear her hair and it differs every day.  As far as we know, the options are:

  • Hair down with hairband
  • Low ponytail with hairband
  • Low ponytail with hairclip
  • Low ponytail with nothing else

She won’t tell us what order these run in, because she’s aware that having a set of hairstyles which she rotates through and repeats isn’t “normal”.  But while she’s a bit embarrassed about it, it’s not enough to stop her from continuing with the routine.  It’s a safe place for her and we don’t feel the need to fight her on it.  Plus, she will change it if we ask her to, like wearing her hair down for school photos, even if Photo Day falls on a "low ponytail with hairband day".  Just as long as there’s a good reason for the change and we’re not disrupting her plans without her knowing why.  And occasionally, very occasionally, when I’m doing her hair, we can break with the routine, and I can add a French braid or a (dreaded!) high ponytail into the mix!

Whiteboard with the day's activities written on itWe also make sure that, as much as possible, T knows each morning how her day is going to roll out.  We have a whiteboard in the kitchen that we outline the day’s planned activities, so she knows what to expect and although she’s usually OK with changes occurring to what’s put on there, she’s definitely calmer if she has some idea what’s happening each day.

While routines are a big part of her life, there are many things that are not a part of her life.  Being on the Autistic Spectrum means a level of obliviousness to the rest of the world -  what’s going on, how and why it might affect her, and a general lack of interest in things that fall outside her sphere of interests.  Like fashion, clothes, and fitting in with trends.  All of which T is totally oblivious to.  It’s no surprise that the "nerds" in a class may turn out to be the kids with Asperger's because if T is anything to go by, their appearance is almost the last thing on their minds.  She pays very little attention to what she and others are wearing and we have to keep a close eye on what she heads out of the house in.  Pink and orange are often put on together, or we sometimes get pink and green, or plaid shorts and a polka dot top.  More than once, we’ve been shopping and she will choose the most hideous thing in the store and then be bewildered as to why we’re not getting it for her.  Last Christmas, when my husband and I appeared in Ugly Sweaters for a Christmas party, she said without a touch of irony or sarcasm “Nice sweaters!” and she really, genuinely meant it.  I’ve no idea what she’s going to look like when she leaves home and goes clothes shopping for herself, but I suspect it'll be something like Amy from the Big Bang Theory......

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