All of us autistic adults know we work best when we live our lives with routine. It helps ease executive dysfunction, can reduce stress and anxiety, and it can lessen the amount of overwhelming surprises.
We can use our need for routine to help us gain better organizational skills.
Autistic adults have a lot of natural advantages in life, we just have to learn how to use them for our benefit.
How Does Autism Affect Organization Skills?
Before we dive into the details, let’s talk about how autism affects our ability to become organized autistic adults.
Every autistic person is unique with how organized we are naturally. Some of us become stressed by the smallest amount of clutter in a room, and others struggle with keeping their surroundings organized.
There are a number of ways autism can affect our organizational skills. When we are able to identify what might be slightly limiting us, we can better know how to organize our lives in a way that works best for us.
When we live in a world of constant sensory overwhelm, it can be incredibly hard to find the energy to focus and figure out how to keep ourselves organized.
We become so focused on trying to self-soothe that our surroundings and daily life may get more disorganized because we don’t have the extra energy needed to develop organizational skills.
We may set things down somewhere and almost immediately forget where we left it. Sometimes if we have both autism and ADHD, it can affect issues with short-term memory.
Getting distracted by something, or remembering something we need to do, can cause us to lose track of our belongings.
We may remember something we need to do, and we get the impulse that we must do it right now before we forget. Immediately, we may forget about what we were doing because we’ve abandoned it to do this new task instead - leaving our belongings and to-do list behind.
Stress from Unexpected Changes
Sudden changes in our lives can cause us to feel stressed. The more stressed we get, the less energy we have to develop organizational skills.
It can be hard to describe to non-autistic people exactly what the stress from a change in routine feels like, but we all know it can cause us to feel an intense amount of anxiety.
The more stress we have in our lives that drains our energy, the less we have available to organize our lives.
We Get Distracted
Focusing on our special interests makes hours pass by without us realizing it.
We may think something will take less time than it does, and when we run out of time and haven’t completed the task, it adds to our stress and anxiety levels.
Our autistic traits can cause us to lack a sense of time. What feels like an hour, may become an entire day. This can affect our ability to do a productive time management schedule.
How Can an Autistic Person Become Organized?
Despite all these autistic traits that interfere with becoming organized, we still have a lot of traits we can use to our advantage when developing organizational skills.
Using the Autistic Need for Routine
One organizational advantage is our need for routine.
We keep a routine because it becomes, “I have to do this because I always do this.” It’s more of an impulse that we have to keep a level of sameness in our lives.
While it can bother us when life doesn’t go our way, or something unexpected happens that day to throw off the set plans, we can adapt.
I created a system called Getting Organized Autistic Style that assists with routine. It allows for flexible scheduling, so if a task or activity is no longer needed, you can cancel it guilt free. If you can’t get to a task that day, simply reschedule it.
The How to Make a Visual Schedule for Autism article walks you through how to use it.
Once we learn how to harness this ability and use it to our advantage, it can help us function better and possibly with less stress in our lives.
Minimizing Sensory Overload
Stim toys work great at releasing a lot of anxious energy.
There are a ton of options such as; fidget spinners, twisting stim toys, fidget cubes, chew necklaces, and many other helpful stim toys.
If visual stimming calms us, there are lamps that can light up our entire room in colors and patterns that we can watch to stim.
Noise-cancelling headphones are a popular choice for preventing sensory overload.
If we can’t create a sensory friendly environment at our workplaces, we can do our best to create a sensory friendly environment at home.
Another cause of sensory overload can be messy surroundings. The hardest part is to take the first step to clean an overwhelming mess, but it can be a hurdle worth crossing.
Organizing Our Surroundings
Keeping items in designated places in our homes can help us not misplace our belongings.
If you have a backpack or handbag, it can be useful for keeping your keys, wallet, and other items in the same place inside the bag or backpack to reduce the odds of losing them.
Even if we don’t realize it, messy or dirty surroundings can become an enormous source of sensory overload for us. Looking around our apartments or homes, we may see clutter and feel a sense of anxiety, or our hearts race a little. These can be signs we might be visually overstimulated.
You may ask, how do I organize my surroundings?
We can start with a small area of our living spaces, such as the kitchen. One day we can clean the kitchen stove, the next we can clean the fridge or throw away expired items in the pantry.
Once we clean the kitchen, we can move on to the living room, office, bedroom, or closets.
One by one, and one day at a time, we can make our surroundings a place that calms us instead of overwhelming us.
Organizing with Tablets & Smartphones
Organizing with calendar apps, tablet planner apps, reminders and so forth can be helpful to some.
Apps like Google Keep and Apple Notes are great for organizing ideas. Whether you write lyrics, poetry, ideas for your novel, ideas for your business, those apps can be useful for quickly writing your ideas in a safe place.
Apple Notes and Google Keep also allow you to create to-do lists with checkboxes so you can check off tasks once you’ve completed them. It works great for organizing large projects that will take many days to complete.
Autistic Adults and Organizational Skills
Overcoming challenges is the best way to grow in life, and challenging ourselves to develop organizational skills that work for us can provide a sense of accomplishment.
We are all different, and what works for one autistic person may not work for another.
The important part is to figure out what works for you.