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My autism whiteboard

This whiteboard helps make my life easier.


Earlier this year, I was diagnosed as autistic. I have since discovered a lot of very predictable causes for my previously mysterious anxiety. Anxiety that had left me overwhelmed and burnt out for “no reason” most weeks.

Now I understand the causes, I can give them some attention. That way I get a choice. I can do something about the cause, take a break… I can still carry on anyway. But at least I understand the trade-offs.

I wanted visual prompts for some of these causes, to help make those choices.

Enter, my “autism whiteboard”!

I picked four things from my autism report that felt important:

  • Overall: Having prompts to explain why I might be overwhelmed

  • Sensory stuff: Improving my interoception

  • Social stuff: Paying attention to my energy levels

  • Routine stuff: Knowing what’s coming up in the day

The whiteboard has evolved over time, as I’ve experimented. I think it’s pretty much set now. Here is what made the cut, and the impact each thing has had.

 

Left: Today

Each morning I put magnetic cards (like these) into my schedule. I include anything that isn’t work-related. This helps me know what to expect from the day. It stops me from running this over and over in my brain. I recently tried two days without it, just to see the difference… I kept getting confused about what was going on. I ran my day in my head on repeat a hundred times. It was kind of exhausting. Just like the good ol’ days!

The cards are taken from a larger set stuck on my radiator, that I rotate in and out depending on what I’m doing. This means I don’t have to fill new ones in each day. They are colour coded: green = exercise, blue = solo activity, yellow = social activity. The colours help me know at a glance e.g. if I have a very “yellow” day, I’ll probably need time to recuperate. More on how I manage my routine here.

Top middle: Interoception checklist

All the images represent a different internal sensation that I sometimes miss signals for. The apple means “hungry”, the sun means “too hot”, the plaster means “in pain”. Yes, that is a plaster. Yes, my Art & Design A Level really shines here. Kind of you to notice.

I had no idea the extent to which I can miss this stuff until my diagnosis. Missing simple things like hunger, tiredness, pain, will cause anxiety to build up in the background. I guess my body “knows” there is something wrong, but my brain doesn’t get the message. So I take no action. Having the checklist prompts me to manually check, and now I catch more things. It has stopped me from getting to the previously-very-common stage of “I feel sick but I don’t know why” more times than I can say.

Bottom middle: Watch outs

This one’s quite simple. It is a list of things that are likely to cause a lot of autistic people issues. I tailored it a bit, but the list is pretty generic. I refer to this list when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It helps me spot what the trigger might have been, so I can go back and address it. Even if that just means giving myself a break. Previously, I never had an explanation… and I can’t fix a problem if I don’t know what it is.

Top right: Repeatable routines

There are two routines (left: getting up, right: coming home) that help me with “transitions” during the day. Often these were times when I would get very frantic or very stuck. Being able to fall back on these, especially if I’m in a new place, is a relief. I’ve tweaked and changed them over time, as I’ve found what works best, but overall they’ve been super helpful.

Bottom right: Energy level tracker

This shows me when I’ve “over-spent” on social energy. In the morning, I record a number out of ten for how I’m feeling. Through the day, or just at the end, I tally up my energy expenditure. An easy meeting at work might cost one point, socialising with someone I don’t know well might cost five or six. I make up the number depending on how it felt. At the end of the day, I can see if I’m in deficit or not. This awareness often prompts me to take a break, rest, or at least dial down social plans to something easier. Even just noting the “start of day” number helps with this!

There is no logic for the snail shell. I just like snails.

 

These visual prompts help me a lot. I can finally address pockets of anxiety that had — until recently — eluded me completely.

I think most people could benefit from something like this, autistic or otherwise! The things you choose to focus on might be totally different, but the idea is still the same. Just pick what makes the biggest difference for you, and keep experimenting until it feels right.

Lauren x

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