This is a list of seven sensory items you may find useful throughout winter, although they can be used all year round. The person who sent this list in is an autistic student who really struggles with the coldness and the darkness of winter, so that is what this list focuses on: finding warmth, light, and sensory joy throughout the longer and colder nights winter brings in the higher latitudes.
SAD lamps, with SAD standing for seasonal affective disorder, are designed to help those who find they have seasonal depressive symptoms which are often due to the darker days in winter. There is some proven efficacy in using a SAD lamp for the treatment of these symptoms, especially when used first thing in the morning and combined with other supports. You should speak to your doctor first as they will be able to best advise on this. SAD lamps are very bright and the individual who submitted this noted their particular sensitivity to light, so they often put it on in the corner of the room whilst they make breakfast rather than be directly in front of it, as this works best for them and their sensory needs.
One cannot make a list about the sensory aspects of winter without mentioning fairy lights! The individual who made this list said, “just put them up everywhere and be happy” and yes, I very much agree with this. They give me so much sensory joy and they are such comforting things.
Earmuffs are ideal winter sensory wear for three reasons:
They muffle noise, so are sensory dampening for sound.
They keep you warm, so are sensory soothing for temperature.
And they are just snazzy accessories to wear!
Glowing Alarm Clock
As the mornings are darker it can be trickier to wake and loud alarms are not the gentlest of things to welcome the day, so alarm clocks with a soft glow can be a fantastic alternative. The creator of this list uses a Casper Glow Light and loves it for its portability. I personally use my Alexa to turn on my bedside light and have it gradually increase in brightness.
Warmies is a brand of lavender-scented soft toys which you can warm (in the microwave), and, in doing so, they smell even more of lavender. They are just fantastic and I am so glad they are on this list as I highly recommend them too (I have a hippo and a shark!). They also do slippers, neckwraps, and hot water bottles!
Fleece Weighted Blanket
Many weighted blankets are, well, just weighted blankets, but in winter having a fleecy weighted blanked seems like a much more sensible choice! Brentfords Teddy Fleece Heavy Weighted Blanket is a good and affordable choice, offered in both pink and grey.
Super Soft Jumpers
Lastly, and importantly to one’s sensory needs during winter, making sure you have a jumper that you like the feel of that is also going to keep you warm. This is extra important if you are like me and don’t really recognise you are getting cold, because if you have something you like to wear that will keep you warm, you are more likely to stay warm!
This list was sent in by an autistic university student living in a country with very dark winters and the post was put together by ally (who is also autistic and also lives in a country with dark winters!). Ally is @pallyallywrites who has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes, where they write about psychology, neurodiversity, and life.
Humans have this cognitive process called executive function. This is basically how our brains go, “yep, I have a goal or task I ought to get done and I am going to do it”, and then the really neat thing about executive function, is that it is by its very nature executive, it has the power, the ability, to put those little cognitive brain cogs whirring about wanting to do the task into action in order to complete the task from start to finish without veering off course. Hence, a person has executive function in a task. So, executive function for brushing teeth would look like a person thinking, “oh I should go brush my teeth” and then they work out what steps they need to do to do it and they go do it, no issue there. Obviously, this is really simplified and executive function is not only just about this. For example, executive function also is about being able to effectively switch between tasks, generally plan activities, emotional regulation, working memory, problem solving, and so on.
Now, there is the flip side to executive function, the rather aptly named executive dysfunction. This is where one, in the context of task initiation issues, can understand the goal and can even know exactly what needs to be done, yet there is a disconnect in the process. This makes even the simplest of tasks seem like an impossibility. People with an executive function problem like this may lie in bed trying to will themselves to get up to brush their teeth, yet the process of actually doing it does not follow automatically from that internal command, no matter how much they tell themselves. No matter how much they command themselves, yell inside their heads to “just get up and do it!” or call themselves names and beat themselves up over it. It is exhausting and draining to even try to will oneself to do these things, and it doesn’t actually make a person feel better if it takes all of their energy for such little reward. It can actually make them feel worse, like, “oh it took you all this energy just to brush your teeth and your exhausted from it and feel awful, how pathetic are you?!”. Sometimes people need to prioritise tasks depending on how much energy it will take from them when they deal with executive dysfunction. Executive dysfunction is not a disorder but rather a set of cognitive processes and symptom common in a few different areas which I also experience personally as part of my autism, ADHD, and anxiety.
For me executive dysfunction can become an issue with quite a few things from communication to selfcare. For example, I often struggle with actually communicating what is in my head, the process of bringing thoughts into conversation is a tricky one. I struggle with selfcare, for example brushing teeth can be really hard as it is a task I genuinely dislike in terms of sensory input, so I have that layer of just not liking it on top of just struggling or not being able to actually start on going to do it. The other part of this is, and I think it is an anxiety thing, I feel bad for not doing it, I think I feel guilt for not being able to do a lot of things, so growing up I found it really hard being told to go do a task like this or being questioned about it would as that would just make it worse.
Executive dysfunction can manifest in many ways and ultimately affects goal-orientated behaviours across working memory, response inhibition, set shifting, and fluency. Some examples of how executive dysfunction may affect these four areas are:
Working Memory – working memory is our ability to hold information temporarily, when we have issues with executive dysfunction we may struggle more with our working memory and our ability to focus on the task at hand.
Response Inhibition – response inhibition is our ability to basically think before acting so as to not engage in an action that interferes with a goal-driven behaviour, when we have issues with executive dysfunction we may be more reactive to things that distract us from the task at hand and more easily distracted.
Set Shifting – set shifting is the ability to move back and forth between different tasks, however, when we struggle with executive dysfunction, we may get stuck thinking on just one task and really struggle to or are just unable to change our focus to the other task. We can call this very stuck and continued fixed thinking on the task perseveration.
Fluency – fluency is our ability to communicate efficiently with verbal or visual information, however, when we struggle with executive dysfunction many aspects of this can become affected, from the pragmatics (i.e. how we communicate the social and contextual aspects of language) to the semantics (i.e. the actual meaning of the words) of language.
How I Navigate Executive Dysfunction
Executive dysfunction affects so many things and it can be really difficult to navigate certain aspects of it. Some skills I use to help with my executive dysfunction are:
Breaking tasks down into individual components to make them feel more manageable.
I have post-it notes and pencils (important to have them both) in every room to jot things down to help navigate issues with working memory and getting distracted by or too focused in on something.
I often have my computer read aloud the text I am reading to help me focus in on it.
I use a lot of mindfulness when I am stuck in that sort of ADHD paralysis and I will think to myself “okay, I am here and I am doing this thing instead of that thing and that is okay, I will get there in a moment” and I will be really gentle with myself instead of trying to just force myself, as I ultimately end up more stuck if I try to force things.
I try to have glasses of water in each room when I am working because I know I will forget to drink and I know having glasses of water around makes me more likely to drink.
I have a massive whiteboard to plan my week, but I also use a digital calendar too so I get notifications.
I make a lot of lists and add easy things on to them that I know I can manage to give me a boost by having something to check off quickly.
Asking others for help: this is an important one and you are allowed to do this, we all need help with different things at different points.
This was made by @pallyallywrites who has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes, where they write about psychology, neurodiversity, and life.
There are so many systems offered to those under the neurodiversity umbrella to help us stay on track of things: from bullet journals to calendar apps. Usually we are recommended tools from neurotypicals who just don’t quite get how we work. So, in this post, Marina, a wonderfully kind autistic individual, shows their own personal neurodiverse ways of staying organised and on track. She also offers suggestions and a download for others to try too. They highlight the importance, of finding your own systems, things that work for you individually, ultimately noting that there isn’t a right way to do all of this and that that is okay.
Over the years, I’ve realized that planners don’t help me because the information is inside a book. If I don’t open it, it practically doesn’t exist. If I misplace it or forget to use it one day, it’s difficult to get back in the habit of using it.
So… here are the systems that work for me!
I have two whiteboards in my flat.
One is in the hallway, so my flatmate and I can put our schedules on it. It helps us remind each other about events and know when the other person will be out or busy. I use a green marker and she uses a red marker.
The second whiteboard is the most important. It’s in my room and it keeps track of my week.
It’s split into 5 sections:
1 – Week
I have the days of the week with numbers listed and I write the main event of the day
Updates Sunday night
2 – Today
Day and number
The day’s schedule in detail
Updates every night
3 – Weekly/Long-Term To-Do
Write the deadline!
4 – Morning Routine
Sometimes I get stuck in the mornings, and it helps to know what I’m meant to do next
5 – Notes/Reminders
Anything that will make me happy
I got this cheap calendar and have it tacked to my bookshelf. All important events are added here, and I cross off the day once it’s over.
Daily Routine and Habit Trackers
Guide to this chart:
It’s split into Morning, Study, Other, and Night. Each table is 7 days’ worth.
The idea is that I may not do every single activity every day, but throughout the week I want to do them most days and I want to keep track of it. I struggle with maintaining a strict routine but there are things that I want to make sure I do.
Morning and Night are routine trackers. I can make sure I took my medications, brushed my teeth, did all the important tasks. Sometimes I forget, or I do things in the wrong order. It’s helped me to have it written out and be able to cross it off.
Study and Other are habit trackers. I don’t need to do every activity every day, but I like to make sure I’ve done them all at least twice throughout the week.
The Other (aka free time) section also serves to give me ideas for times I am bored and need something to do. I might realize I haven’t played video games in a while, or maybe I spent the whole week playing video games and should maybe pick up a book.
I usually keep this in a poly pocket so I can use a whiteboard marker to cross it off and reuse the same sheet.
I’ve attached an editable word document of mine at the end of the post.
Whenever I notice something isn’t working, I adapt it. It takes time to figure out what you need and what works for your brain, but it’s great to have A System (or several systems). One of my close friends loves to spend a day planning her bullet journal spreads and decorating it. That overwhelms me and I can’t imagine relying on it. My whiteboards stress her out because I have my deadlines right in front of me. Some people love their computer’s calendar, there are loads of apps out there, a regular planner is fantastic for others, etc.
It takes a lot of experimentation to find your own system, so keep at it and do whatever works for you. There isn’t a right way to do it.
As tasks begin to mount moving further into the university semester, for some, coursework can be a big struggle. It can be especially hard to keep track of and manage references for essays for individuals who may struggle with executive dysfunction or staying organised due to their autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or other flavour of neurodiversity. So, Niko, an autistic university graduate, with a lot of experience managing all of this, has put together a handy guide to using Mendeley to help stay on top of your coursework.
Hello from Niko
Hi hello. This is (hopefully) a short Tutorial on how to use the Reference Management Software Mendeley, as well as its associated plug-in and extension. Using Mendeley helped me greatly in my Research Project, as I can organise the stuff I have to read through and reference them quickly and easily on my reports.
Step 1: Downloading Mendeley
This step is for downloading the Mendeley desktop app, Mendeley Web Importer, and Mendeley Cite for Word. You can also use this for other word processing software, like LibreOffice or Google Docs, but for this tutorial, we will be using Microsoft Word.
The other parts can be installed via the desktop app (see image below).
From my own experience, and others, it is best to use your personal email when making the Mendeley Elsevier account because there was plenty of login issues when using your university email. However, remember that your university email is the one that gives you access to the articles in the first place. Thus, use personal email for Mendeley and use university email for accessing articles.
Step 2: Find An Article To Reference
When you get to the web page of the article, click on the Mendeley Icon on the top right of your browser.
I’m using Google Chrome, might be different on other browsers.
Once the extension loads, you can add the article and its PDF to your Mendeley Library by clicking Add.
In the image below, I made a Collection in my Mendeley desktop app called Sharky McSharkface. Thus, the article will be added to that folder as well as your overall collection of references.
Step 3: Syncing Things Up
The image below shows the collection of references I have added to the Collection I named Sharky McSharkface. The reason why the Sync button is highlighted is that sometimes the reference don’t get added immediately to your library, so you have to tell the app to sync up whatever you added on the browser for it to show up on the desktop app.
Step 4: Reading on the Mendeley App
Once you have stuff added to the desktop app, you can just read it on the Mendeley app instead.
In this way, you don’t have those usual 50 tabs open on your browser. You can open multiple articles and shift through them via the tabs.
To go back to your collection, just click on Library next to the Mendeley icon on the top left.
Step 5: Mendeley Cite
Now to reference stuff on a report. Whenever you want to do that, go to References on Word and click on Mendeley Cite.
The green circle is where you can browse through your Collections (they’re just folders really…) and the red circle is for you to search terms in your Library.
You can search for the topic, authors, publishers, date of publishing, website etc. and the Mendeley Cite will browse through your Library to find what you’re looking for.
Step 6: Adding That Citation
When you find whatever reference you’re looking for from your Library, you can add it by ticking it and clicking Insert 1 Citation.
You should then have the citation inserted automatically.
Step 7: Changing Citation Style
You can then change the citation style of the document by going to the Citation Style Tab on Mendeley Cite.
Choose whatever citation style is required.
In the image below, I clicked Select another style and searched up the citation style for a Chemical Engineering Journal.
You can then cite as you type by having Mendeley Cite open.
Step 8: Bibliography
Lastly, adding a bibliography is done by clicking More and then Insert Bibliography (see last picture in Step 7).
Ta-da, the bibliography is added wherever your cursor is!
Also interesting to note that changing the citation style also changes the style of the bibliography.
The image above has the Nature citation style and the one below has the American Psychological Association 7th edition citation style.
Notice the change in both the referencing style and how they write the bibliography.
And that’s it. From my experience, super helpful in organising your reading list and referencing stuff. Plus, it skips the chore of writing down references entirely.
This is a resource-packed website for autistic students by the Irish charity AsIAm. It includes videos of college students answering questions and a range of downloadable resources offering advice on so many topics, such as:
Communication and navigating social situations at university.
Revising for and managing exams.
Travelling and using public transport.
Doing the dishes.
Cooking a meal (they have lots of easy recipes!)
They even have a 360 degrees virtual tour of a college campus!
Ambitious About Autism have a collection of resources informed by and/or made by young autistic people which cover a wide variety of topics. In this section, they have information on:
Thinking you might have autism
Making sense of your autism diagnosis as a young person.
Further education and training.
Work experience and employment.
The further education and training section is very comprehensive, and one of my favourite parts is definitely theYouth Patrons’ Blog. This blog details two young people’s lived experiences of education and accessing supports they needed, such as Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), which is a government grant available in the UK to help disabled students.
Autism&Uni is a European Union funded project developed at Leeds Beckett University which created a format through which universities could develop and display resources to support autistic students. For example, UCL, University of Bath, and University College Cork, as well as many other universities across the EU have developed these toolkits. The toolkits typically includes information on:
Preparing for university.
Transitioning to higher education.
How to access supports and reasonable adjustments.
Studying remotely and studying on campus.
What university is really like.
Exams and studying.
The social aspects of university.
Student stories about their own experiences at university.
This is something I got to help with and was created by my university’s autism spectrum group in April for Autism Awareness / Acceptance month and I just really wanted to include this here as a wee bonus. Not only does it provide some wonderful suggestions on ways to navigate the struggles of university life we may have as autistic students, but it also is just a fantastic resource to give to your place of education, as it suggests lots of ways to help better understand autistic students and make things better for us. The resource includes:
An introduction which outlines what autism is.
A guide to important terminology.
A page on the struggles autistic students may have and possible solutions.
Myths and misconceptions about autism.
A list of resources the authors, who are all autistic students, recommend.
An appendix of memes!
This post is made up of some resources emailed in to Practical Neurodiversity (both the Autism&Uni Toolkit at UCL and UCC were emailed) and some resources I have personally like. It was made by @pallyallywrites who created this space and who has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes, where they write about psychology, neurodiversity, and life.
As someone who struggles a lot with certain aspects of communication, especially when the ways in which I communicate are not understood by those I am interacting with and are not met with patience, I often rely upon many different tools to navigate the world, one of which is a guide which quite literally communicates my ways of communicating.
This guide is a really useful thing to have, especially for giving to people I am going to meet for appointments as they can have some understanding and preparation in place on their part for how they are going to facilitate communication with me. It means I am not always expected to try my very best to align to a neuronormative expectation of how I am meant to be, because they know to meet me at my level. It also means they see beyond a label: they do not just read that I will be nonverbal there and assume I have nothing to say, they know I am funny and smart and opinionated and have my own ways of communicating with them.
In this post I will break down the kind of things I put in each section of my communication guide and then leave a blank copy for you to download and fill in if you want to.
Firstly, I start with the title, I personally do not title mine with anything beyond my name and NHS number as the document has the title, but if you make your own you can come up with all sorts of titles. I do quite like the idea of calling it: Communicating Communication.
Breaking Down Communication Generally
The first page is focused generally on how I communicate and what helps me to be understood and understand others.
What Facilitates Communication
In this section I put what kind of things help me with communication generally. It is the first section so it is kind of like an overview of some of the most important things someone would need to know to help ensure good communication between me and them. Some examples of things I have in here include:
Having regularity to day and time of appointments.
Having face to face appointments if possible.
It is really helpful if I feel understood, and that my specific experiences are recognised.
I like to clarify details – having patience and time to do this is really useful.
Having a little bit of time to get to know the person I’m speaking to is helpful, and being introduced to new people I will work with.
How I Communicate
In this section I give an overview of the ways in which I communicate to help the person better understand me and how to communicate with me. Some examples of things I have in here include:
I am unable to verbally communicate in appointments, but can communicate using text/writing.
I can struggle with literal statements, and misinterpret some humour (I personally think I have a fantastic sense of humour myself!).
I take people’s word choices seriously and am quite pedantic about language.
I find it helpful to clarify meaning to ensure I have understood.
Other Information About Me That Is Useful To Know
In this section I just give a broad overview of anything else I think might be useful to know for others meeting me. As I often use this for health professionals, I tend to focus here about how I may express things like pain or emotions, as they are important parts of communication too. Some examples of things I have in here include:
I can find it difficult to know what it is I am feeling emotionally.
I struggle to express distress and pain.
I have a poor concept of time.
I need to move about, this is not me being rude or being bored, it is self-stimulator behaviour and something I need to do.
Breaking Down Communication Appointments
This is the second page and focuses on how to best support me through an appointment in terms of communication and is a really useful tool to send out to people before I meet them.
Things To Consider Before Appointments
In this section I include things, such as how to contact me in terms of arranging the appointment and what can be done beforehand to ensure I feel comfortable attending. Some examples of things I have in here include:
The best means for arranging appointments is by mail or email.
It is really helpful to know the purpose of the appointment in advance.
Things To Consider At The Start Of Appointments
In this section I advise on what is best to do when we meet, how we introduce ourselves, and how we start the appointment. Some examples of things I have in here include:
It is helpful to revisit the purpose of the appointment.
It is a good time to check in with how I am feeling, as this might impact on my ability to engage in the session.
Things To Consider During Appointments
This section focuses on what is important to communication throughout the appointment, both in terms of being understood, but more importantly here (since I have covered a lot of how I communicate), in terms of understanding the other person. Some examples of things I have in here include:
If there are distracting noises, I will struggle to process what is being said.
If you are giving me the choice of something it is best to only have two options (listing things can be tricky for me).
I can find it hard to express when I am struggling – it is helpful if you check with how I am managing during the appointment.
Things To Consider At The End Of Appointments
This is the last section where I relay how to best end appointments with me in a way that works with my styles of communication. Some examples of things I have in here include:
I find it useful if we can recap on any action points discussed / agreed.
It is helpful to have some time for me to ask any questions or clarify anything I’m not sure about.
If the purpose of the appointment has not been met, it is useful to have some reassurance about this.
I find it helpful if we can schedule any future appointment(s) together at the end.
This is Practical Neurodiversity’s first blog post. It was made by @pallyallywrites who created this space and who has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes, where they write about psychology, neurodiversity, and life.
We recently got a small influx of emails with resources, which is absolutely wonderful! Taking from some of these recommendations, here are five flowcharts for neurodiverse brains.
There is the use of swearing in some of these resources.
1. Why Can’t I Seem to Do An Important Yet Very Simple Task?
An executive function focused flow chart by Sydni from What in the ADHD? because “When we struggle to do The Thing, itcan be difficult to pinpoint the EXACT issue.” So, this flowchart is to help you workout what exactly the issue is and navigate executive dysfunction:
2. You Feel Like Shit: A Self Care Game
You Feel Like Shit is an interactive selfcare guide which goes through a series of questions to break down what tasks to do and check you are looking after yourself. It is designed to be specifically useful for individuals who struggle with selfcare, executive dysfunction, and/or interpreting internal signals, such as hunger.
It’s designed to take as much of the weight off of you as possible, so each decision is very easy and doesn’t require much judgment… you can even go through this routine as soon as you wake up, as a preventative measure.
3. Anti-Procrastination Flowchart
The anti-procrastination flowchart was posted by redditor studentEnginerd in r/ADHD for feedback from other users, and you can see their suggestions here. The flowchart is colour coded into four stages and employs a range of skills which are from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), such as opposite action. The flowchart goes from the initial realisation that you are procrastinating (red), to planning your work (orange), to overcoming mental hurdles (yellow), and, finally, beginning your work (green).
4. A Flowchart For Getting to Sleep: A Playful Take On Sleep Hygiene
It is not uncommon for individuals under the neurodiversity umbrella to suffer from higher rates of insomnia than their neurotypical peers. Knowing what to do when you struggle to sleep so often can be really tricky, so having a handy and fun flowchart to help with sleep hygiene can be a useful tool! Lindsay Braman, a Seattle-based artist, therapist, and mental health illustrator, designed a fantastic and fun flowchart for sleep you can find here.
5. Am I Having A Brain Problem Or Being A Shithead?
Okay, this flowchart has a history! It was originally a text post by adhd, Private Investigator which was made visual by Life with ADHD who turned the post into a flowchart. Okay, that all seems simple, yes, but wait, there’s more! Much like my own ADHD fuelled rambles, this flowchart seems to go on beautifully for a while! This version is a remake of Life with ADHD’s flowchart by Yuutfa to make things a bit clearer and it is really very wonderful! This flowchart it validating, and although it is ADHD-focused, it seems like it would be useful for anyone struggling with executive dysfunction.
Although these are useful resources and tools for working through tricky things, they are not a replacement for support and guidance from a trained professional.
This post was made from resources recommended which were emailed in by wonderfully neurodiverse individuals, with the exception of the first flowchart from What the ADHD which ally also added. The resources were pieced together to post by ally, who is autistic and had ADHD, and has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes where they write on psychology, neurodiversity, and life.
Although autistic burnout is something that is not well researched in academia, it is something that has been reported by many lived accounts of autistic individuals. However, a study published last year in the journal Autism In Adulthood titled “Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout, highlighted that is is in fact a very real problem that many autistic individuals face, and they defined it as stressor(s)/pressure(s) causing expectations of an individual to outweigh their abilities to cope leading to:
Loss of Skills
Reduced Tolerance to Stimulus
They also describe overall general negative impacts on their health, capacity for independent living, and quality of life that accompany autistic burnout and highlight the following as tools in recovering from it:
Greater Acceptance & Social Support (they highlight lack of empathy from neurotypicals as a problem)
Taking Time Off/Having Reduced Expectations
Doing Things in an Autistic Way/Unmasking
Building on this incredibly useful study, we (five autistic adults here) have compiled our own tips on autistic burnout to share. So, here are five tips for navigating autistic burnout.
Tip 1: Taking Preventative Measures
It is super important to recognise the things that can cause burnout. There can be big triggers which you can’t always prevent, but, at least some, you can prepare for in gentle ways, such as visiting a new school, college, university or place of work before you start there to help ease the transition. There can be lots of small things too which all add up, such as lots of social demands and uncomfortable sensory input, so it is important to take regular breaks to do what makes you feel comfortable and safe too.
I use noise-cancelling headphones and sunglasses to reduce how much information my brain needs to deal with when I go out and it helps a lot.
Tip 2: Unmask If & When You Can
Masking can be an automatic response that is hard to let down as it can encompass such a big part of some autistic individuals’ social lives, and their is also a safety aspect to it, so it might not always be something people want to try to put down, even when it is so taxing. However, if and when you can, letting yourself unmask can be a great way to avoid or reduce burnout as masking is a chronically demanding and fatiguing tool.
I’ve been trying to learn to not mask so much for a while now and I feel so much happier and energetic when I don’t need to do it, when I can just be me.
Tip 3: Look After Your Stimming & Sensory Needs
Meeting your sensory needs is an important part of selfcare, and ensuring you can stim in ways that work for you is important too. This could be anything from making sure you have time to move and stim freely (a secret dance party, if you will) and cultivating creative outlets as preventative strategies, to going under all the soft and weighted blankets and having very soft sensory lights on for calming visuals and just cocooning up for a while to heal when burnout gets too much.
I do this thing I call nesting, where I just go under all my blankets and set my light to a soft moving blue and I am just under all this comfortable soft blanketed pressure and it feels safe. I also like to listen to my favourite docuseries whilst nesting too which is about my special interest.
Tip 4: Setting Healthy Boundaries
A key trigger for autistic burnout is when the demands presented to us outweigh our current ability to cope, so being able to say no to new tasks before you start to become overwhelmed is a good skill to avoid things continuing to mount up and becoming far too much to deal with. However, sometimes things just are to much on their own, and that is okay too, you can ask for help from those you know and trust if you are struggling and feeling overwhelmed.
I do work that I am very passionate about and I also am very passionate about routines. I combine this now, although it has been harder than one might think. So, when I finish work for the day I no longer respond to emails or requests, I may still work on projects but no work communication after 5.30pm, that is a boundary.
Tip 5: Recharge with Some Alone Time
When experiencing autistic burnout, the world can just seem so very overwhelming and alone time can be a really valuable tool here to recharge and feel better. Spending some time engrossed in a special interest or cocooned in your favourite weighted blanked or playing that one piece on piano over and over again until everything feels gentler again, for example, is totally valid and okay. However, do remember to access the support of those you trust around you and of mental health professionals too if it does all get too much, as sometimes burnout can last and it can be hard and you don’t have to deal with not being able to deal with things alone.
Don’t wait until you’re experiencing burnout to start looking after yourself- it’s no secret that the world is capable of being a rough place, and you deserve just as much as anyone else to be kind to, and gentle with yourself, and you don’t need to be actually burnt-out or nearing burn out to justify taking some time alone to recharge. Don’t let anyone tell you that self-care is unproductive, because it absolutely is productive! When I’m needing time to myself, I’ll usually watch gentle, low-energy YouTube videos in bed (if time allows), or I’ll listen to Jimi Hendrix, Motorhead at high volumes- for some reason I find loud guitar music soothing.
It’s also okay if you need to take alone time away from socialising (where applicable), good friends should be respectful of your need to take time to yourself, and by looking after yourself, you’ll be able to socialise more readily and you’ll get much more out of the time you do spend with friends and/or family!
Remember that you deserve kindness- you deserve kindness from others, and you deserve to be kind to yourself.
This article was pieced together by ally, who is autistic herself, and has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes where they write on psychology, neurodiversity, and life. The content post was co-authored by ally and four other autistic adults who all have a range of lived experience(s) of burnout: Finn, Xander, R., and Mark. Finn and Xander actually helped in the initial construction of Practical Neurodiversity before ally, Finn, and Xander all experienced burnout themselves to different degrees and had to put the project on hold. There is an irony that this was one of the only posts from their initial drafts months ago, finally being published, and it is a wonderful thing to be able to finally bring it all together to post.
Due to the cost of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices and their lack of personalisation, and due to my own circumstance as a human with significant challenges with the whole speaking thing, I often build my own tools to help me communicate.
I like to sign with the people I am closest too, and I use my board a lot, but I wanted something more techy, yet personal. However, my impatiently excited ADHD brain also wanted to be able to make it within 30 minutes and for it to be adaptable quickly as I go. So, my brain decided upon using Visual Basics Applications (VBA) in Microsoft’s Excel (don’t worry, it is really not that complicated) to make an AAC board that I just needed to click for speech and could adjust easily, and it is really quite a nifty contraption! I have written it all out for easy copy pasting for anyone with access to Excel to make and adapt quickly!
Step 1: Making Excel Talk
Firstly, we need to set up Excel to work for us here as an AAC with speech, so we need to do the following:
Click Customize Quick Access Toolbar
Then proceed to click More Commands…
Now you should end up with something popping up which looks like this:
To add speech from here, we do the following:
Make sure you are in the Quick Access Toolbar section from the options on the left.
Go to the drop down options which are titled Choose commands from: .
It is usually set to Popular Commands, but we are being inventive here, so we want to move away from this and choose All Commands instead.
Scroll down to Speak Cells on Enter and left click on that.
Click Add >> (make sure it moves across to the box on the right, that’s where we want it).
Click OK and the window will close.
Huzzah! The Speak Cells on Enter shortcut/button should now be on your Quick Access Toolbar (top left of your page). So, click the Speak Cells on Enter function to enable it and you will have now made a talking Excel! Go ahead try hitting enter on a selected cell with typing in it, Excel should speak it out! If you don’t like the voice don’t worry, we will get to changing that later on.
Step 2: Keeping Things Tidy
Okay, we have added the speech component, now we need to adjust one setting to keep things tidy:
Click on Customize Quick Access Toolbar.
Go to More Commands… again.
Instead of being in the Quick Access Toolbar section this time, we are going to click on Advanced which should take you to the following space:
The first box here After pressing enter, move selection will most likely be ticked, but we want to untick this box.
Huzzah! You have completed step two! Look at you go! You have now done everything you need to do to set up for Excel for speech, the next steps will focus on making it into an interactive AAC!
Step 3: Pictures & Phrases
Firstly, we ought to choose an area to place symbols/pictograms within cells, and once you have decided this, it is time to sort out our first cell!
Put an image in a cell within your predetermined area, but make sure it does not fully fill the cell as the AAC will operate by pressing the cell, not the image.
Once you are happy with its location, you need to open up VBA.
Right-click the sheet’s tab at the bottom of the screen (e.g. “Sheet 1”) and left-click View code (I promise it is not that scary or difficult).
A new window will appear for the file with a further window for the specific sheet which will be at the front, this window for the sheet is what we want. In this window, add the following using VBA to assign value when we click on the cell containing the image you want (i.e. the cell location):
Private Sub Worksheet_SelectionChange(ByVal Target As Range)
If Not Intersect(Target, Range("[put the cell in here, e.g. C4]")) Is Nothing Then _
Range("e.g.C4").Value = ". put the text you want spoken here with a fullstop and a space at the start to allow for speech to sound more natural"
You can repeat this for as many cells and pictures you want; for example:
Private Sub Worksheet_SelectionChange(ByVal Target As Range)
If Not Intersect(Target, Range("C4")) Is Nothing Then _
Range("C4").Value = ". Hello! It is good to see you. How are you today?"
If Not Intersect(Target, Range("D4")) Is Nothing Then _
Range("D4").Value = ". You are the best! Thank you so very much!"
If Not Intersect(Target, Range("E4")) Is Nothing Then _
Range("E4").Value = ". Goodbye! It was good to see you. I hope you have a nice day!"
Now, all you need to do is click a cell and press enter and Excel will read out the value you have essentially given to the picture in the cell. And huzzah! You have made an Excel AAC! It is a bit messy though, so let’s tidy that up.
Step 4: TidyingThings Up
Now you may notice it is a little messy in showing the textual value you have assigned for the cell when you press it, so we are going to add a ClearContents module to remove text appearing with just one click on the page. I have done this with the bottom right cell in each sheet of my AAC and it is super helpful.
To do this we do the following:
Go to Insert at the top of the page then Illustrations then Shapes (wowza that was a journey!).
Choose whichever shape you desire, I personally like to use a rectangle to completely fill a cell which I have even added text too saying “Clear Text”:
Now you need to turn this shape into a module (i.e. a button which can do a nifty function for us that we will use to remove text):
Open your code again (you can do this the same way as before or just hit Alt+F11).
Click on Insert at the top of the page.
Add the following code into the module window (don’t include the “e.g.” though):
Range("[cell; e.g C4]", "[cell; e.g. L4]").ClearContents
This will set up a module, or as I like to call it, el clicky button, which will clear the contents of all cells within the range provided when pressed. This can be layered upon to clear multiple rows/columns; for example:
Now we can go back to the worksheet and turn that shape into a functioning button linked to this ClearContents module and it is pretty simple:
Right-click the shape.
Click Assign macro…
Click on ClearContents.
And that is you sorted, so that now when you press enter on a cell, you can easily remove the text by pressing this button and you still get to keep the visual representation of the text and pictures for every time you click it. Just an aside, the neat thing about ClearContents over using something like ClearCells is that it will not remove any colourfill or borders or anything like that, just the value that appears now upon pressing a cell.
So, you have your phrases set to go and you have a function to tidy Excel up, all you need now is to make sure you have the right voice for your AAC.
Step 5: Getting the Right Voice
To change which voice is used in Excel, we will be altering the text-to-speech voice across programmes. To do this in Windows 10, do the following:
Type in Control Panel in the Search Bar at the bottom left of the screen.
Click on Control Panel.
Click on the Ease of Access selection.
Click on Speech Recognition.
Click on Text to Speech (this should be to the left).
A window will pop up in which you can adjust settings/change voice (non-microsoft voices can be added, I personally use a voice which has a local accent which is non-microsoft).
And that is it! You now have a homemade AAC in Microsoft Excel! There are no doubt easier ways to do this, and please do share them if you ever want to, but this was one of my ways to make speech and sound and have fun with all of it. My university’s motto was Ever to Excel, and, in my ever autistic way of doing things, I guess I chose to take that very literally.
This is Practical Neurodiversity’s first blog post. It was made by @pallyallywrites who created this space and who has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes, where they write about psychology, neurodiversity, and life.