It is common for people on the Autism Spectrum to have obsessions or phobias. Learning to deal with things that worry me has been a major challenge. Sometimes, these concerns made it difficult for me to concentrate on the things that I needed to accomplish. I have had to learn how to put what I was worried about out of my mind and concentrate on the task at hand. I continually have to work at it.
When I was a student at UC Santa Barbara, two major anxieties of mine were weather and traffic. Because I went home for weekends on Friday, I worried about the drive back and getting stuck in traffic. If it rained, I was concerned that there would be accidents on the freeway that would keep me from getting home. I was homesick when I first lived away and this was a big deal for me. In fact, my anxieties coupled with homesickness even affected my grades one quarter. I knew that in order to make it through college, I would have learn how to manage these obsessions so they would not get in the way of my academic progress. In order to deal with these anxieties rationally I worked on with my clinicians at the Koegel Autism Center.
The clinicians taught me to rationalize my concerns by looking at them with a more realistic perspective. They told me to not “catastrophize.” One technique that the clinicians and I came up with was creating a laminated card with rationalizations printed on them that I could pull out anytime I got anxious. The card read: “There is usually no traffic when I drive home on Friday. If there is an incident on the road preventing me from getting home, I can always stay with my grandparents until it is cleared. There is usually no inclement weather in Southern California. If the weather is bad, I can hang out with my friends until it clears.” Rereading this card every time I got nervous helped me internalize these realizations until I was eventually able to remind myself of them if I felt anxieties coming on.
Learning to rationalize my fears and anxieties is a skill I am still working on today. Inclement weather is something I still get nervous about, but I have taught myself to think about it in a different way. This last weekend, Southern California experienced some showers and thunderstorms. Rather than be nervous about it, I forced myself to look at it in a positive way. I reminded myself that California could really use this rain in the current drought and that it will help dampen the brush in the hills, helping prevent wildfires. Training myself how to think about things that worry me in different way has really helped me manage my anxieties and obsessions.
If you are on the spectrum, a rationalization card could help you with your obsessive thoughts. For those of you who know someone on the spectrum, when you see them beginning to obsess on a topic, gently suggest rationales that avoid catastrophizing the situation. Maybe help them compose their own card. I have found catching these obsessions early before they become disasters in my mind has helped keep life more even and happy.