The apartment complex where I live is currently cutting down trees that are deemed dangerous. While I understand the reasoning, it is gut-wrenching to watch my beloved trees get taken apart piece by piece. It’s especially infuriating when I know the previous owner neglected to have the trees trimmed or maintained, which is what has led to so many trees needing to be removed at once.
Let me not go on that tangent though. Perhaps my tangential thoughts are a good example of why change can be particularly difficult and poignant for autistics. It’s never just the ONE thing that changed. That change is then connected to a multitude of thoughts. We think about all of the consequences of the change. We think about alternative scenarios involving the change. We think about what led to the change.
In the case of the trees, this can lead to me being emotionally upset. I am angry at the previous owner. It also makes me think about the trees that fell in the storm last year and how much I miss the shade around my apartment porch and the privacy the tree offered me. I wonder if they really could just trim the tree, or maybe they’re cutting it down because it’s cheaper. I wonder if they will plant more trees. The one change of trees being cut down leads to so many other thoughts.
The same happens for more regular events in life. For example, if someone changes the restaurant we were planning to meet at, a plethora of related thoughts emerges. Where is the new restaurant? How long will it take me to get there? Where will I park? What is the atmosphere inside? Will I be able to hear my friend? Will the food sit well with my digestive system?
These are just a fraction of the thoughts that course through my mind.
Autistics are frequently described as being rigid or inflexible. I don’t think that’s a fair characterization. I enjoy consistency and reliability because then my mind knows what to expect. I can move through my day and focus on the things I really want to - such as having a good conversation and meal with my friend.
I’d also rather be present to the world around me. I’d like to sit on my porch right now and enjoy the cool breeze and view of the mountains. Instead, my brain is obsessing about all of the trees I hear them cutting down.
This is why I like to do things as consistently and routinely as possible. This is especially true when I have a task at hand. For example, when I need to get something from the grocery store, I go to my favorite grocery store because I want to know exactly where I’m going, how long it will take to get there, where I can find the item, and when I can expect to be at home.
My brain does allow for flexibility if I am intentionally seeking adventure and fun. For example, sometimes I go on meandering walks. I just walk toward the next thing that interests me. In these cases, change is fun. Another example is travel. If I am going to visit another country, I am anticipating and seeking change. I enjoy seeing all the new things. My mind is ready and prepared for the change.
My mind was not ready for my beloved trees to be cut down.