Everyone needs time to relax – autistic people most of all – but what people do to relax can differ greatly. The things a lot of people find relaxing can be stressful for people with autism. For myself, and people like me a day of just doing nothing needs as much planning as any other day. Below I explain why this might be, and how I relax as an autistic person.
It’s all about structure, and if I don’t have any then the day is going to be stressful. I don’t have to have everything planned out to the last detail, but I need at least a rough structure around what I am going to do, and when. I can’t have this structure six days a week, and then get rid of it on a day I am resting. I still need to plan when I am getting up, what time I am eating or watching a film. If I don’t do this then I end up spending the whole day getting more and more stressed out about not knowing what I am doing and when. If I plan then I can relax and have fun, but if I leave it to chance I get nothing done, and feel more stressed than I did at the start of the day.
I can’t just wake up at any time and take the day as it comes. If I know I have the house to myself one day I will plan in advance what I am going to do. I might say what time I will get up, what films I will watch, if I will do any reading that night. And for the most part I will stick to those plans. I know for a fact if I did not have them I would be unable to relax. It can seem a bit odd; my Mum might ask me to do something and I will grow angry as I have plans. But those plans might just be to sit and read! Even lie-ins are not something I find relaxing. I might sleep in sometimes, but for the most part I need to be up at a set time or I feel my whole routine or plan for the day is off – even if this is just by half an hour.
The fact is uncertainty, and stress are not relaxing for anyone. So I have to make plans in order to get any benefit from rest days. I know this is very different from how most people relax. Most people I know are happy to just be around the house all day doing nothing, and while that idea is nice I just can’t do it.
I might be thinking and planning for days which film I am going to watch on a night where I have the house to myself. Does it matter that much? Well I am sure I would enjoy any film, but if I don’t plan it in advance I may very well be standing there for an hour trying to pick the perfect film to watch. Forward planning is key for autistic people, even when it comes to relaxing!
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