Making the right decision can be a difficult process for anyone; weighing up your options and working out the consequences if you get it wrong. Decision making can be a stressful, painful, drawn-out process. But what if that decision is something as simple as whether to go out or not? Or what film to put on? For some people with autism this can be very much the case. Autism can often make it difficult for people to be able to make even the most basic of decisions. My decision making is much better now than it was when I was younger. When it comes to professional decisions, for example my books or my blog, I don’t struggle at all. But I still find decisions around the house very difficult. For example, tonight, even though I have had a swollen and painful stomach for two days now, I still couldn’t decide whether I should force myself to go to the gym tonight, even though I would get no real benefit, or go tomorrow morning when it had calmed down. When you think about it, it is a very simple decision. And in the end I did decide to go tomorrow morning, when I would get the benefit. Even though I made this decision, it wasn’t easy. I still had to think about it a lot and talk to my Mum about it. Even though it’s not a right or wrong decision, and there weren’t any real consequences, whatever I decided – the simple act of decision making is difficult in itself. But in the past, I probably wouldn’t even have been able to make that decision. When I was young, even a question such as `which piece of fruit do you want? ` Would have got me worrying, and trying to puzzle out a right or wrong answer. I know it might sound silly, but even those simple, everyday decisions, can seem like an incredibly complicated problem to somebody with autism. And even if they don’t, they can be difficult decisions for other reasons; when I was younger, and even to a point still today, I would genuinely have no particular feeling one way or the other when making a decision, so often I felt that it should be down to somebody else to make that decision as they probably leaned in one direction or another, whereas I was one hundred percent neutral. A lot of people find it difficult to understand; that for me two things could be completely the same. But it is for the same reason that I don’t get disappointed if I can’t go to something I was planning to go to. Even though I enjoy doing things, I don’t have the same emotional reaction to them that other people do. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy it when I’m there, it just means I don’t feel the disappointment when I don’t go – in the same way that with some decisions, even though I would enjoy either option, I would have no strong feelings either way which one I do.
I think that one of the major contributing factors to not being able to make a decision is stress; I don’t believe that anybody truly performs well under stress. When I was in college I never became stressed by the amount of work I had to do. It was simply work that needed doing and handing in. The work and the deadlines never stressed me out. But sometimes when it comes to making decisions, I do feel stressed. For me, and I think for a lot of other people, to put it in the simplest term possible – when I become stressed my brain doesn’t work as it does now – I can’t seem to put together a process to decide which option I want to go for. Nothing springs forward and says `this is the right option, choose this. ` And I can’t figure out how to process the options to decide what I want to do. My brain becomes mixed up and my thoughts jumbled; imagine you are walking down a corridor, and at the end it forks in to two separate corridors. Then when you get there you are put in a blind fold and spun round multiple times. You have no way of telling which way you are meant to go, or how you are meant to work it out. It is not that there will be any dire consequences if you make a wrong decision – it is that you physically can’t make the decision in the first place.
Part two of this blog coming soon, where I will discuss the impact that struggling with decision- making can have on your life, and some techniques to help improve your decision-making.
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