John Lennon famously said “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making plans.” In other words, things happen (typically unexpected and unwarranted) right when we’re trying to keep up with a schedule. These schedules of ours tend to grow in size as the years go by; the older we get, the busier we tend to become. That’s why when it comes to people with autism struggling well into adulthood, planning is a must. Regardless of whatever event or task at hand, a lack of planning spells out a lack of success. So, for this article, I’ll explain how to plan effectively using a two-step procedure; once you read it, you can stick to a schedule no matter what comes your way!
Step 1: Write It Down (and Rehearse It Often)
The first step towards planning effectively is to make a note of what your plans, your schedule for the day will be like. I can’t stress enough how important this step is, let alone how few there are who bother to do it! Now, you might think that it’s important for becoming (and staying) organized. If so, you’re not wrong! However, look at the section title again and consider what I put in the parentheses: “Rehearse It Often.” Organization plays a vital role for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but what’s just as significant is prepping yourself so that you’re completely ready to execute and fulfill whatever you’ve written down. After all, if you don’t have the right attitude and mentality prior to your schedule, you very likely won’t accomplish what you’ve set out to do. That’s where repeatedly rehearsing your schedule comes into play! Remember, like it or not, being on the spectrum means having a lower threshold for frustration and a greater possibility (if not probability) for becoming drained and exhausted before everything’s been completed. However, remember as well that this can be addressed; once you’ve written out your plans, proceed to read them out loud (or to yourself when in public) over and over again. Doing so brings order and preparation to your day and, provided you don’t give up, virtually guarantees victory.
Step 2: Take It Slow (and Pay Attention)
This piece of advice runs contrary to what you (and even most of society) have been taught, but it, too is important: Take it slow! Really—I mean it. Whatever your schedule is for the day, you won’t do yourself any favors by rushing through it. The physical and psychological stress are bad enough, but what’s just as problematic is this: People with autism simply aren’t meant for such a lifestyle! We have the greatest chance of succeeding when we can take our time on something. Here’s why: We tend to process information more slowly than neurotypicals, so this had a profound impact on what the optimal pace of a task should be. Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not calling those with autism unintelligent or anything of the sort; however, it’s a critical fact about us that’s often overlooked, and neglecting to mention it only hurts us in the end. If we became rushed, or even feel as though we are, we not only become unbearably stressed, but we also tend to miss key points and variables in what we’re doing because all we can think about is our negative frame of mind. Taking things more slowly allows us to focus on the latest task or event. However, speaking of focusing, doing so is paramount when it comes to keeping track of any items or details present in said task or event. This is because planning effectively doesn’t just pertain to what needs to be done beforehand; it also pertains to paying attention, which means knowing what to do as you’re doing it! So, take a tip from this guy:
Here’s an example of something that happened to my friend recently: Last week, I’d been helping my friend do some grocery shopping. She needed help with budgeting and getting the most out of her money, so after an hour or two, she understood how to stretch her dollars the next time she needed food. However, around the time we got back to her place, she realized she’d lost her debit card! She looked everywhere but couldn’t find it, so she had to cancel it and order a new one. Had she paid better attention, she wouldn’t have lost it. Now, she didn’t have autism, but the same principle applies. In fact, it especially does if you’re on the spectrum because we’re more prone to losing track of things; that’s why a slow approach is superior, but it’s only so when you periodically verify that everything is being done correctly, that nothing has been disregarded. Otherwise, that low threshold for frustration becomes even lower.
Planning effectively might seem like a lot to handle. Truth be told, sometimes it can be. But don’t let that discourage you! Yes, it can take a little practice and getting used to, but it pays off a lot. Just follow my advice—sometimes it’s better to plan your planning ahead.