We have learned quite a bit in Ecuador and have been adapting our lifestyle here because of it. Being Autistic can be a struggle especially since each one of us is different. Just because we are deemed 'functional', it is a huge battle daily for even the most basic activities in life. A few things we had learned about ourselves:
1) We don't adapt to change well. This is VERY common in Autistics and though we may mentally understand and want change, a lot of the time we actually need a slow transition or a long time after to recover. Like in Ecuador, it took us a month to get comfortable with the home (needing time to gather our necessary items to make it properly furnished for our stay to getting a good feel of the people and neighhborhood around us). The next month it took time to get used to the town. Once we were about to leave, we were comfortable enough that traveling to other towns during our stay would've been plausible. But we didn't have time or the funds. We are pleased with the steps we took as is. It was enough to see our patterns and understand them. Only then can we improve its standing.
2) We do not do well interacting with others. Not that we don't want to...but we don't want to. It's extremely draining as it requires us to use years of trained skills, focusing on only the proper interaction standards. This sounds ridiculous but our brains aren't wired that way to pick up social cues so it takes a bigger toll on us than most by analyzing every little thing. We do like talking to people and learning about them or what they can teach us...but again that requires specific patterns that are very tiring. Translating our brains to those that do not have autism is a huge task in itself. Since we have spent 99.99% of our time only talking to each other (Autism brain to another Autism brain), we tend to forget how we need to communicate thoroughly with others. Our hints and jumps from topic to topic (because we expect you to understand and connect the dots), tend to get lost on others. This is where we lose our train of thought easily when we have to backtrack and translate what we really mean after every other sentence. We have to put a lot of effort into interacting with each person we come across. We also pick up on a lot of cues most overlook. So we will be struggling to figure out those on top of everything else mentioned above.
3) Taking things slow isn't a bad thing. We don't want to overexert ourselves. We've had enough experience and medical documents to prove that we can't take the fast-paced lifestyle anymore. America is known for this (especially our big cities). We appreciate Ecuadorian culture where it is a little more laid-back. However, we still hold strongly to being on-time when promised which is closer to an American standard. We take the best of both cultures and what works best for our well-being.
4) Focusing on what's important, whether it's highly important to us or requires to be done on a short timeline. Both are important and should be taken seriously. Even if others don't see it that way. Ever been in a dilemma where you have set tasks that HAVE to be done because it's an adult responsibility but also a task you enjoy doing that could grow into a possible business opportunity? Well, both would be important would it not? Just the latter would not produce financial results at that time, it is still working that needs to be focused on and completed to finally reach the stage where it comes to fruition. I've been learning that I have issues most of the time just sitting and focusing on one task for long periods of time. I do have hyperfocused moments on certain topics but it is not entirely in my control when that happens. My pattern needed to be changed to complete anything: do a step here and there and bounce from project to project. Though there are many little steps, I'm motivated to stay on task and possibly complete it! This goes into number 5.
5) Work with what works best for YOU. I'm very visual and sadly sometimes my auditory senses overwhelm my vision. (Odd I know right? This means I can't see with sound interference.). So I have to set certain areas and atmospheres that I can thrive in. In Ecuador, I wasn't bogged down by responsibilities to where I could notice this and make adjustments. And making those adjustments is actually worth the effort. Such as I have multiple craft projects I am usually working on at the same time (Try 5-10 active with 50+ in the background on queue). Each project has various steps that require various parts of the brain and select mindsets. If I don't see a project out, I'll forget about it until I come across it or a need reminds me I need to work on it. In our home, I typically have 3 projects laid out around the house that I jump to when I have time and energy. Take for example a project to research sources on the behaviors of Autism, a craft involving painting with acrylic, a project to draw new sticker designs, and a scrapbook of sorts in my calendar book I always carry around.
Now each on their own doesn't sound too hard. Except each STEP is generally a different process. Let's compare researching Autism versus working in my calendar. Researching involves critical thinking as well as the ability to focus and remember what you are reading in order to get the context of the paper. It involves getting the 'gist' of each source and then combining them with at least 3-5 other sources to get a well-rounded understanding. Then you would need to find key quotes within the works to put together in your own paper that connects them all logically and scientifically. These steps all make sense when researching and reporting what you have found. But each step requires a minimal set amount of energy, focus, and memory to attempt. I don't always have all three resources and not at the level that I need. So I may focus on one step at a time in between other tasks I have to do. Such as one day I will just go through databases and find research that fits my criteria. Usually, I try to at least skim the abstract to make sure it's closely related to my direction. If I can at that time, I will read it thoroughly to see if I want to keep it or not. Once my 3-5 sources have been chosen, my mindset needs to be different. This is a memory-heavy step that I don't always have or is lacking most of the time. Focus and memory kind of go hand in hand when if I hit disassociation from something else going on in life (i.e. stress) then this task either becomes impossible or EXTREMELY difficult at best. If I am at minimal working capacity, I allow myself to ramble to get a flow going or get out all the ideas I wanted to add into the paper (that are applicable of course). Then come back later when I am mentally prepared to review and edit what was babbled out. But by breaking up this step, I don't strain and stress myself or create a negative connection to my project. I'll be able to enjoy the work and result rather than seeing it as a chore and something that drags me down or drains me.
Let's switch to 'scrapbooking' in my calendar. I've started adding stickers or pictures or ephemera to help make it exciting to keep coming back. I heavily rely on a visual calendar in my hands that I can physically work with. Because with memory issues...how can you remember you have a list to remember what to do if you didn't even remember that you wrote a list in the first place? Yes, after PTSD my memory had been shot. I'd write everything I needed to do and then lost the paper because I didn't know where I put it (wasn't visual as a reminder) I was usually lost in a daze without a direction. Now making my calendar book/journal exciting to look at, I'll always have in hand my important information.
Now to get into the mindsets for each: A lot is organizing. Sometimes it's just getting the items to where they need to go so I can use them at the right time. I try to set aside some time every day to go through the book and see what I need to add or what I could add. I can come across some Christmas wrapping paper with a really cool or beautiful design and I'll take a piece of it to put in as a reminder of the gift I received. You might not see this gap here but it's very prominent for me. When at home, I don't take my book with me to every room. Sometimes I am in the middle of something else and it has to be put off until I am complete with a different task. So I'll need to collect what I want to take with me over to the book when I get there. Example: I'm upstairs and I need to add in notes I scribbled on a paper to be put into my master planner as well as some stickers I found. I'll place it by the stairs to take down with me to take over and leave with the planner for when I have time to work on it. However, sometimes I'm so set on a task I don't SEE what is sitting waiting to be moved to their next stop. Hours to days could pass before I remember to take it with me. Especially if I am low on energy which is needed to go through these steps.
So now I have projects laid out where I can jump from task to task and complete steps based on what my mental state is at the time. Some days I can focus for 5 hours straight and some days 15 minutes is torture. But by keeping this pattern I have been able to move forward in almost every task I've decided to work on. Granted I keep the amount to pay attention to at a low limit before adding anything new.
Living and Learning.
Even your weaknesses can become strengths when you accept and work with them!