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Derailed: Pulling Up the Tracks

  • Posted on October 30, 2011 at 2:55 AM

One trait that seems common to autistic individuals is a need for order, for predictability, for sense to be made in this chaotic and unpredictable world—it’s often marked as a deficit. But I’m not sure this is so different from typically developing people. I’ve known more than a few control-freaks who have no other marked traits associated with autism. The difference is how they cope with their need for order and predictability. They apply a patina of control over the world by being rigid and driven, filling their lives with minutiae, and bullying others to conform to their ways of doing things. Their will is a formidable force to be sure, but I can’t really see that sort of behavior as a positive. They don’t look particularly odd, but they attain their semblance of control at the cost of others. Whereas, meltdowns aside, most of the autistic coping mechanisms are less destructive to others’, but limit the abilities of the autists.

For me, order isn’t necessarily a matter of constructing a daily routine. I’ve never found a good way to bring order to my day in the sense that I know what I’ll be doing and when. If nothing else, the irregularity of my sleep cycle interferes with that in problematic fashion—something to work on, definitely. I prefer order to start on a more macro level. I need to have goals for my life, and I set those goals at least five years out. Then I need to break those goals down to what I want to achieve in a given year, a given month, a given week.

The problems I encounter are two-fold. First, I set the wrong goals. Second, life intrudes on my sense of order. In the last two years life has intruded a great deal. Very few of my plans have worked out. Many of those goals were just the wrong goals or the right goals at the wrong times. My goals also lacked a necessary balance—I lacked goals that would improve or maintain my own health and well-being, like getting sufficient sleep on a predictable basis. The rest of it was the natural chaos that results from this messiness we call life. And, of course, I wanted to more than I was able to in the time provided.

Recently, this has all come to something of a head. My train, rumbling ahead at high-speeds, derailed. The aftermath was devastating. It wasn’t just a single point coming on done; it was the accumulation of my chaotic life paired with major and minor goals coming unraveled, seemingly one on top of the other before I could cope with the first. The cars piled up. The result was an inner life more mangled than manageable and an outer life that hasn’t been working for far longer than I’ve been willing to acknowledge.

Sifting through the wreckage has taken some time. Making sense out of the pieces, identifying where I went wrong, and discovering ways to fix it have also taken time. The process isn’t complete, either. But I’m laying new track—setting a new course—and picking out new cars to put on the train that is my life.

Order doesn’t come naturally in this chaotic world. We have to make it where we can, how we can, though often it’s merely illusion. Sometimes I forget that last part.

Why Chaos?

  • Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:32 AM

As a person of faith, I believe in the existence of an underlying order that spans the entire universe and our individual, daily lives.  I believe this order is designed by a loving God, set in place to fulfill eternal purposes.  And yet, I say I embrace the chaos of autism.  How can this be?

Life generally appears chaotic.  Life with three active, autistic boys seems even more chaotic than the usual American family.  My boys do crazy things.  And we live a crazy life keeping up with them.  However, in embracing this apparent chaos, we can find the order that lies beneath the unpredictable surface.  From catching the “joos” that’s surrounded by babbled syllables to know that my son wants a drink of juice to finding my son who refuses to use the potty changing his own diaper.  I look for the meaning and the order that is uniquely theirs.

There’s order to the spinning, the lining up, and the sporadic skills that seem to come and go with the changing breeze.  To find the order, you must embrace the chaos.  Otherwise, you’re trying to change the underlying order of these little people in your care to your own pre-determined expectations – and that is when you create genuine chaos in their young lives.