Working with and around executive dysfunction.

I wanted to talk about a little trick I use to help me get going in the mornings. I tend to wake up quite early but then struggle to accomplish things. It’s not helpful to get up early if all I’m going to do is sit at my desk and stare at social media without really processing anything I’m looking at.

Before I start, I thought it might be useful to share a brilliant YouTube video that goes into what executive dysfunction is.

Another brilliant resource on the same subject:

https://musingsofanaspie.com/2014/01/07/executive-function-primer-part-1/

I doubt this will work for everyone. We’re all different. But I thought it might be nice to share a trick I’ve found to work with and around bad executive dysfunction days.

For me, if I can get myself through a few tasks early on, I find it helps me through the rest of the morning. Before I go to bed, I work through a bullet list of things I want to accomplish first thing the next morning. When I wake up, the first thing I do is once again go through that list.

So, for example, this morning, my process was to think through:

  • walking the dog
  • cleaning the kitchen and emptying the dishwasher
  • have breakfast
  • write for ten minutes without doing anything else on my computer

Once I’ve completed a list, I occasionally go through the rest of my to-do list. But more often than not, I’m either already moving on to other tasks, or I’m having a bad day, and that’s the end of it. The truth is that just because I have tricks that work, it doesn’t mean they always do.

Some days are just bad executive dysfunction days. I’ve learned to be kind to myself on those days. Pushing doesn’t accomplish anything. Not really. It tends to wind up with me having to redo things because I haven’t done them right the first time.

It’s all about picking my battles.

And sometimes realizing that you have to retreat.

And by retreating, I mean taking a nap.

Daily Routine

In my post on executive dysfunction a few months ago, I believe I mentioned having a cleaning routine. I might’ve also talked about my daily routine that helps me cope on hard days. If I didn’t, I meant to.

I have both a morning and evening routine. Truthfully, I follow the former more frequently than the later. Evenings just don’t always go to plan.

The key thing to me following a routine at all?

Simple.

Keep it simple.

Complexity doesn’t work for me when I’m stumbling around in the morning without coffee.

  • I wake up, a key part of any morning routine.
  • Splash my face with water, brush my teeth (and hair…separate process lol), and stretch.
  • Make the bed.
  • Walk Bacon.
  • Breakfast.

And that’s it.

That is literally my early morning routine.

Everything else that comes next is part of my to-do list for the day and may or may not get done.

Do you have a routine?

My Happy Space

The older I get, the more I try to create a calm space for myself. Stress isn’t good for anyone, but particularly for autistics. The world generally causes us massive amounts of stress just being the way it is.

Home is my safe zone. And I’ve gone out of my way to try to create an environment that causes me the least amount of stress. My spouse has been really helpful and supportive in my need for calm and quiet.

Here’s what makes up my happy space on particularly stressful days:

  • Comfy PJs.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones (a new addition that has done wonders for my stress).
  • Fleece blankets – we have six in our bedroom.
  • My kindle.
  • A scent I enjoy. Two of my absolute favourites are black cherry and strawberry lemonade.
  • A TV show. It’s usually As Time Goes By or Bake Off. Both are shows that I find incredibly relaxing.

Those are all things that help me cope on rough days.

They make up my stress-free happy space.

What’s in yours?

My Executive Dysfunction Life Hacks

I tried to write a definition for executive dysfunction from my perspective but the words kept getting all bungled up. So I’m including a video below by one of my favourite autistic YouTubers that does a better job than I could.

A brilliant YouTube video that goes into what executive dysfunction.

Another brilliant resource on the same subject:

https://musingsofanaspie.com/2014/01/07/executive-function-primer-part-1/

For me executive dysfunction is something that makes my life incredibly difficult. It makes meeting deadlines tough. The older I get, the more I’ve had to find ways to work around it/with it.

So, here are a few of my personal life hacks for dealing with days when executive dysfunction is being particularly difficult.

  • I think about the first 3 tasks I need to accomplish at the start of a day the night before (and also when I wake up. For example, I need to walk the dog, clean the downstairs bathroom, and have breakfast. If nothing else, I find it helps me focus on three things I can get done early.
  • Cooking. Keep it simple. I pick recipes that don’t have a million steps. If a recipe has too many steps or too many words, I get lost and don’t want to do it.
  • Accepting that some days I just can’t. It doesn’t make me lazy. It doesn’t mean I’m worthless. I’m just having a rough day. I can try again the next day.
  • Have a cleaning routine. I used to try to accomplish everything on the weekend. It often failed miserably. Now? I have a list of ‘daily tasks,’ I do one each day. I also have a list of more in-depth cleaning that I do across three months in autumn and again in spring. Even on rough days, I can usually manage one cleaning tasks (or one room.)
  • Finding the right level of distraction. I need white noise to accomplish stuff, otherwise the silence is too loud and distracting. I usually put on music or a TV show/movie that I’ve seen before.

What about you?

Do you deal with executive dysfunction? What are ways you’ve learned to help yourself?

Autistic Twitter

I’ll be perfectly honest. April is my least favourite month because of the ableist nonsense surrounding autistic acceptance month. I spend a lot of April sharing my thoughts on Twitter. And frankly, a lot of it is negative.

One of the things that causes me great irritation in April is how autistic voices don’t LEAD the conversation on autism. So, this year, I decided to celebrate autistics. This week, I’m sharing a small selection of my favourites to follow on twitter :

Agony Autie: https://twitter.com/AgonyAutie

Riah Person: https://twitter.com/lilririah

Neurodivergent Rebel: https://twitter.com/NeuroRebel

Kayla Smith: https://twitter.com/BeingKaylaSmith

JY Tan: https://twitter.com/JYTan6

Tyla Grant: https://twitter.com/AutisticTyla

Lauren Melissa: https://twitter.com/autienelle

Ann Memmott: https://twitter.com/AnnMemmott

Geek in Overload: https://twitter.com/geekinoverload

Catherine Sawyer: https://twitter.com/ceesinsaw

Black Autistics: https://twitter.com/BlackAutistics

Little Hux: https://twitter.com/littlehux

And this is just a small, small collection of the amazing autistic voices on twitter. Be sure to check out the #Autistic #ActuallyAutistic communities online.

How to Create Authentic Autistic Characters with 10 Questions.

As part of my How to Write Autistics series, I thought I’d share a list of questions that can help create an authentic character who doesn’t feel like a stereotype.

And I should point out these are just question that occurred to me. As with anything, other autistics might have their own thoughts. But here we go.

Ten Questions to ask your autistic characters (some might apply just generally to neurally diverse characters):

1. Were they diagnosed late in life or early?

It can affect how they develop coping skills.

2. Are they self-diagnosed?

3. Do they suffer from hypersensitivity? Are they overly sensitive to light, sounds, textures?

For example, I can’t stand the sensation of most fabrics touching my fingertips. It makes drying off with a towel or folding laundry particularly frustrating. I often have to repeatedly dip my hands in water or lotion my fingers to deal with it.

4. What are their special interests?

I hate the term special interest…but obsession sounds equally wrong. Most autistics I know have specific topics or things that qualify as their special interest. Some of us have lifelong ones while others are temporary. Some of my special interests include Bioware Video Games, TV Shows (As Time Goes By  and others), and Football (as in soccer.)

5. How do they stim? Also, how do they feel about their stim? How do those around them react to their stim?

6. What coping mechanisms do they use for dealing with social stresses?

7. How do they deal with meltdowns and/or shutdowns?

8. Are their family supportive of them finding independence as an adult?

9. How do they deal with eye contact?

10. Do they live atypically? In other words, do they try to blend in and mask their neural divergence?

I’m sure there are a ton of other questions.

There’s a brilliant Youtube channel that can be an amazing resource for you (there are others, but this is one of my favourites):

https://www.youtube.com/user/neurowonderful

 

How to write autistics and not rely on tired stereotypes.

Despite mainstream media and their mostly dismal attempts at creating autistics. It’s rare to see examples of autistic characters who feel ‘real.’ We’re not all rain man or white, young, male savants.

We’re real people who are just as diverse as every other subset of humanity.

Many autistics like myself will tell you if you’ve met one autistic–you’ve met one autistic.

When creating neuroAtypical characters, I try to be cognizant of creating individuals, and not carbon copies of either myself or some stereotype I think non-autistics will easily recognise. I will admit many of my own experiences find their way into my stories. How could they not?

In fact, one of my favourite parts of writing my most recent release, The Lion Tamer, was including Alex and Alice. Autistic twins. They’re on different parts of the autism spectrum with their own special interests and struggles.

Neither of them is some off the charts genius.

They’re just autistic.

No massively high IQ required to be legitimate human beings who deserve to be celebrated.

So, here are a few tips on creating autistic characters, or what are some of the pieces/parts to doing so. (And please keep in mind, this is from my personal perspective.)

  1. Talk to #actuallyautistic people, not just autism parents before you start.
  2. Avoid AutismSpeaks.
  3. Stimming. Your autistic character should have a stim. We stim.
  4. Special Interests. I could write an entire post about this.  We have them. Obsess over them. Use them to calm ourselves from super stressful moments.
  5. Emotions are something many autistics struggle with. We can feel quite intensely, but we don’t often understand what we’re feeling. I’ve spent days trying to decipher an emotion before.
  6. Sensation. Many autistics suffer from hypersensitivity. I, for example, struggle with touching certain fabrics. Light affects me. Certain sounds can trigger me into a meltdown.

Just a few thoughts.

Not sure if any of it is helpful.

I might turn this into a series of posts about being autistic/writing autistic characters.

Do you include neuroAtpyical characters in your stories? Do you have characters who have anxiety, or PTSD, or are autistic? Or some other mental disability or illness?