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Organisation and the Aspie

The words that really drive my wife up the wall are;

  • What are we doing today?

  • What are we doing now/next?

  • What's on the Agenda?

  • What's the Plan?

They're obviously annoying to Neurotypicals, but they're part of a well developed aspie defence mechanism for change control.

I'll be talking more about change and resistance to change in Aspergers in another post. Right now, I want to focus on what daily planning organisation means to Aspies.

What is Change Resistance?
Aspies are quite resistant to change.

It's funny, because when I first read that, I thought... "no I'm not, I'm always one of the first people to upgrade to new software etc...".

That's not what the line means.

It means that aspies resist changes in their lifestyles and daily routines.

In my software example; sure, I'll upgrade my software but I'll still use it to do the same things, and do things mostly the same way and in the same order.

Aspies are more likely to resist changes which;

a. Impact on the long term (eg: Moving house)
b. Impact their immediate plans for the day.

The long term changes should be fairly obvious, so I want to concentrate on the impact of changes to daily plans.

Daily Changes which are irritating...
Weekdays have long been a favourite for me. I know that I get to do more enjoyable things on the weekend, but the great thing about weekdays is that they're almost auto-pilot.

Years ago it was breakfast-transport-school-transport-homework-dinner-tv-bed
every day.

These days, school has been replaced by work and the homework and TV bits have been replaced by less stable activities revolving around my wife and children and household chores.

So, what are the worst things that can happen in this pattern (what stresses me out the most)?
  • Very delayed transport

  • Work issues affecting the way I work

  • Unexpected meetings and last minute projects

  • Problems when I arrive home (Family issues etc)

I'm often praised at work for the way I handle difficult people, constant interruptions and unexpected system outages. Those sorts of things don't cause me stress because they're not "changes" to my routine. They're my job.

It should be obvious why the weekends and especially holidays, with their unstable routines are a major causes of aspie change-stress (at least for me).

Getting Organized
Getting organized is certainly a good solution to the weekend problems. The plan being that you block out weekends on the calendar so that you can see well in advance of time what's going on.

The same would apply to meetings at work.

Ideally, that means that aspies should be the most organized people in the world - Right??


Very Wrong...

For some reason, calendars and diaries don't work for me at all. I will occasionally remember to put things in them but I never remember to look at them. I don't know if this is just me or if it's an aspie trait.

Funnily enough though, since I got my Blackberry phone (which synchronizes with my calendar at work), things are changing and I'm at least getting 30 minutes warning for things I've entered. Of course, I only remember to enter about 10% of my family things (work things are up to about 60% because other people add them to my calendar).

The Daily Plan Method
Because planning doesn't work for me, I need my plans served on a daily basis. Hence my frequent question of "what's the plan".

I tend to ask this every morning when I'm either on holiday or on a weekend. I only ask it in the middle of the day if some part of the plan seems to have changed.

The Aspie Short-Term Memory
My kids have routine activities on Saturday, including Swimming but do you think I could remember the time? Nope. My poor wife needs to tell me every week. It's getting to a standard arrangement that I can at least remember that Swimming Lessons are every Saturday just after lunch... but the time keeps on eluding me. I'm sure I'll learn eventually.

This is quite bizarre really since aspies are well known for their memory abilities... but that's long term, not short term.

So, What's the Answer?
I read somewhere quite recently that in order to be organized, the aspie needs an executive secretary and that the secretary is usually mum. I'll add to that... "grown aspies often require executive secretaries called spouses".

Certainly a beeping/buzzing/vibrating reminder mechanism will help the aspie but someone has to put those dates and times in first. The other job the secretary will probably have well into the future is the answering of the big question...

... so, what's the plan?


Anonymous said…
it does seem like aspies struggle with the kind of organization you're talking about.. I do OK if people tell me where to be and when.. but I stress terribly when I'm the one planning something eg birthdays etc..
your posts are really good... keep it up
jarro_2783 said…
Diaries are completely useless for me for exactly the same reasons.
My example of forgetting to do things is I do the dishes every weekend when I'm home and my mother has to remind me every single weekend. I wonder if making rules about it would help, so then bad things will happen if we don't do it.
Anonymous said…
Great post, Thanks!
Anonymous said…
This is so true! I have a box full of planners. Everytime I buy one I convince myself that I will use it. Not even a week later its stashed in a drawer somewhere. I bought an expensive palm pilot about ten years ago when they were the new 'thing' and it too ended up in a drawer. I joined the army at 18 thinking it would be a good choice and still years later I have a hard time getting to work at 630am even though we do the same thing every single day.
Damo said…
Your post raises an interesting point that crosses two realms. That of the Aspie and that of personality. What you are describing here is a personality trait. Look at the Myers Briggs Personality Profiler. You are describing someone that is impulsive, lacking discipline and tends to leave things to the last minute. The MBTI describes this trait quite well. So, in combining the pair, I disagree. I have my days planned mentally but as for things getting done, they are done according to my schedule.
As for the diaries/planners and the like, I too get one each year. They last about two weeks and then become paperweights. My intrinsic planning does not require additional external planning because that is a waste of energy and time. Why would I write something down if I know I have to do it anyway. (lists are different.) Now for appointments, I use the outlook calender. To understand more of where I am coming from lookup the ISTJ profile on MBTI.
Anonymous said…
the resistance to change thing was hard for me to understand too. but i identify with your explanation of it. sometimes i get unnecessarily irritated if someone asks me to do something outside of my "routine." and it's weird because i don't even have a routine and i'm a terrible procrastinator. however, routine for me is really the comfort in my mind, not a time table. i think it would baffle people to see how unorganized i am by myself, since i can seem rather "organized" about not doing extraneous activities like going out, etc.
ntwife said…
You know...your wife and I are alike in our feelings about the "whats the plan for today?" questions! :) For years, my husband has asked that, and I just feel like saying (and sometimes do say) "I don't know. Just however it works out."

Similar to desifeminists, he's not exactly always organized or living such a scheduled routine...He has problems getting to sleep at night, so he'll stay up until the wee hours of the morning, and sleep until noon most days, and then start the day off at an odd time.

However, to function well, he usually writes out a to-do list for the day, and even plans projects to do for the next several days and how many hours it will take each to happen. If it's a written list, once he scratches off a few things, he'll start a new one that's neater. Otherwise, it's in Excel and it's easy for him to keep managed there.

I'm going to be making my own post on our family routine and everything soon too, maybe today, so there will be more info there if you want to check it out. Just don't want to hi-jack your comments. :)

Thanks again for posting this though! Very interesting.
Anonymous said…
My 8 years old son who I strongly believe has Aspergers and somehow managed to fool the psychiatrist who tried to diagnose him, is extremely smart, has known how to read time before he was 4, without anyone teaching him of course.... well he still cannot remember the order of the days of the week.... Odd isn t it ?
Anonymous said…
My biggest problem with change resistance is that if someone calls me at the last minute to change a plan, it really wrecks me emotionally, and I have to spend a long time talking myself down. I find that I usually have to have a day's worth of warning with a plan change for it not to upset me. Also, changes to recurring plans upset me more: for example, I have sushi with a friend of mine every Wednesday. If he emails me anytime the week before and says he can't go, I end up crying, despite the fact that I know it's a completely reasonable thing to do and he knows to give me plenty of warning.

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