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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

The Autistic Mind Loves to Take Detours

As an autistic person, my mind can take a lot of unintended detours.

I recently reviewed my notebooks, journals, and art since I was in high school. The intention was to find art I made about my mother for a project I’m working on.

My quick idea to hunt for some art turned into a 3 day affair of reviewing the contents of all my journals, labeling every item, and organizing them into new containers. This is one of the beautiful aspects of my autistic mind. An idea seizes me, which leads to another idea, which leads to usually an entirely new system.

I decided I needed an easier way to find art in the future, so I labeled and organized everything.

It was also a 3 day detour from my original intention - finding some art about my mom so I could work on a project about her.

By the time my reorganization masterpiece was complete, I lost enthusiasm and energy for my original project. This is common for me: detours in my thinking that lead to detours in my activities.

Even my detour into organizing my art and journals led to another detour. As I was flipping through journal after journal, my mind was remembering different aspects about my life. My mind was slowly stringing thoughts together, constructing patterns, and making realizations.

I didn’t learn I am autistic until my mid 30s. This was the first time I went through my journals knowing I’m autistic. I noticed sign after sign. I also saw pain after pain. I saw myself trying over and over. I saw the same things I still struggle with today - spiraling, autistic burnout, wanting more friends, and more.

Autistic Art Therapist Jackie Schuld created an abstract painting of green, blue, brown, white, and black swirls that go in many directions, with some taking detours. Jackie Schuld made this piece in her Tucson Art Therapy Studio to illustrate how the autistic mind can take detours.
"Autistic Detour" Acrylic Painting by Jackie Schuld

It was quite the detour. It was overwhelming. My brain was trying to make sense of it all. I know my brain is trying to help, but these are often the worst kinds of detours for me. When my brain gets trapped trying to understand. I’ll have conflicting thoughts that I try to sort out, but it’s all too murky. My myriad of thoughts leads to confusion, frustration, and inevitably a torrent of emotions. I get headaches from thinking so many things at once.

It’s hard to get out of those detours. I’m still learning how to get out. In the past, it would take days before I would eventually come to some sort of understanding and my mind would settle. Those would be some very dark days. It’s hard to explain to neurotypicals how thinking can get so dark so fast. So much of my life, I felt quite shameful about it.

As an autistic adult, I still don’t have detours quite “figured” out. I know they will happen. I know they can be a wonderfully fun and life-enhancing thing (I actually really enjoyed reorganizing everything). They can also be disruptive, distracting, and time consuming.

I don’t know that I can entirely prevent a “detour,” but I would like to believe I can manage the difficult ones better. As an art therapist, I help people do this all of the time. And yet, for myself, when I’m trapped in a detour, I cannot be that outside/neutral lifeline for myself.

So when I am calm, and have my full faculties and energy to my advantage, I try to create little plans for myself. I brainstorm ways I can prevent difficult detours, catch myself as I’m heading into a detour, cope with a detour as it’s happening, and recover faster from a detour.

I’m not entirely sure what is possible. And I recognize I’m walking a thin line… I accept this is the way my brain currently works, and I also believe I can learn more strategies and systems to help me work with my brain better.


Thank you for reading. If you would like help navigating detours and learning how to work with your autistic mind, I'm currently accepting new clients.


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