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How Autistic Rigid Thinking Shows Up in My Everyday Life

CW: discussion of able-bodied routine

One of the diagnostic criteria of Autism Spectrum Disorder relates to restrictive and/or repetitive patterns of behavior, and can include rigid thinking patters (ie that "sense of justice" everyone talks about, except this doesn't mean your rigid thinking and mine agree on what 'justice' is, ya know, but I digress per usual...).

This is something I struggle with often and it's not that I'm trying to change my brain, but rather trying to recognize when this happening and it's having a negative impact so I can find ways to work with myself. And with that, I'm going to begin talking more about my rigid-thinking struggles because they've seeped into every facet of my life. And sure, this can be a good thing when it's something I'm passionate about that helps others, but this is also something that has unknowingly caused me a LOT of turmoil.


Real quick deets and teets - here's a link to the DSM-V criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder, and I've pulled out the section related to rigid thinking:

B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):

  1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).

  2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat same food every day).

  3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g., strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).

  4. Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g. apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).


If you've been following the blog or TikTok, you probably know I've been trying to get back into my morning system with consistent structured stimming - aka working out - because of the overall positive impact it has on me and the rest of my day. Well, within that, I have a certain "schedule" I like to adhere to, which is doing my mobility/movement training on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with some cardio on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now, what I do on those actual days is anyone's guess - even mine - and that's where the novelty comes in because I'll often plan my actual workout just before doing it so that it's something that meets my bautie where it is that day AND something I just chose to do, which PDA prefers. If I "miss" workouts - no big deal - but I don't usually change what I do on which day.

Enter this week.

Now that my mom is more mobile and doesn't need my support each day, she does need some help getting her to physical therapy and other appointments this week... on Monday and Wednesday mornings. Both appointments are just early enough that I would be rushed through my entire morning and workout, clock-watching and stressing. When I got up this morning, I had every intention of putting myself through that stress because my brain said "today is mobility Monday - make it work." And then it dawned on me... I don't have to keep that schedule this week.

What if I switched to Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and didn't worry about cardio, but just try to get outside if/when I can, too? An immediate sense of relief washed over me.

I don't HAVE to do that workout this morning... I CAN do it tomorrow. Is it going to feel funky this week and my days will feel "off"? Sure. But ultimately I'd prefer that to being rushed and putting additional pressure on my nervous system when I have the ability to... not do that.

So I am writing this post instead, in my robe on my comfy chair, and will have plenty of time to slowly get ready and take her to do what she needs without sacrificing my nervous system because of my rigid thinking.

And as a quick reminder, movement should be used as a tool to help regulate us... if we are already super stressed and then put more stress on our bodies, which exercise is, it's not actually helpful anyway (going to talk a little more about this in the near future, too).

With that, I bid you adieu as I hype myself up to make a smoothie before I leave.

Stay regulated, Shauna


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