People on the autistic spectrum often have certain patterns and routines they follow. This can be to make themselves more comfortable in otherwise uncomfortable situations or it can simply be something they do as part of a daily process that makes them calm or happy.
I am no different. Since I was young there have been certain habits or routines that have come and gone in my life that I have no true explanation for. Until my diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, I often wondered if I suffered from a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) but it seems I am not alone in this autistic world where these habits are concerned.
The earliest habit I can recall really taking over my life for a number of years was having an obsession with the number four. If I switched on a light, I would have to do it quickly four times. I would wash my hands four times, each hand twice. Sometimes I would lay awake in bed at night until I had counted to a large multiple of four often associated with the number 16 (four multiplied by four). It made no real sense and I still have no idea where it came from or why it stopped, but I’m grateful that I no longer think that way as it could be exhausting.
I have also been made aware since my diagnosis that a lot of autistic people have bedtime routines, and, once again, I too share this habit. My curtains must be a certain way, my bedsheets must be straight, and my bedside lamp must be switched on and off twice before I am able to sleep. If just one of these parts of the routine is not followed it can affect my rest to the point I won’t sleep at all.
These daily rituals may seem like a hindrance to someone’s quality of life, and sometimes they do feel that way, but most of the time they are an essential pattern we autistic people must follow in order for us to go about our business as normal. If these rules are not adhered to or are interfered with in any way it can cause great distress and upset to the person they matter to.
At the end of the day, if they are not hurting anyone and are not psychologically damaging to the person doing them (in the way that OCD can be) then let people get on with their lives in the way they feel is necessary. Most people have comfort zones, these can either be physical places or a particular set of circumstances laid out in their head in order to make them feel more comfortable in unfamiliar or difficult surroundings. These routines are a way of maintaining the feeling of having a comfort zone around you at all times and are just a way that people with autism deal with everyday situations.
If you ever see someone doing something habitually that you think is strange, please just remember that it could be someone on the spectrum trying to deal with something they normally struggle with.