Autism means I am easily overwhelmed. I often need to reset. Self-care is, therefore, a vital aspect of my daily life, my routines. When thinking of self-care, I find it helpful to listen to my internal meters.
One way to think of meters is to think of the overwhelm bucket used by the Autistic community. Each stimulus I encounter adds to the bucket. Think of stimulus as water dripping into a bucket. Think of the bucket as the Autistic brain. The rising water levels represent increased overwhelm.
Autists can empty the bucket by participating in healthy activities such as our deep interests and stimming. But if stimuli are added to the bucket faster than we can empty the bucket, the bucket can overflow. Think of an overflow as a meltdown.
Another way to think of meters is to think of the Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDs), a self-assessment tool used in cognitive therapy. Using the SUDs scale, patients rate their level of distress on a scale from 0 to 100. Ideally, SUDs levels should be near zero. If these levels are too high, near 100, I’m likely to experience a meltdown. My internal meters, a SUDs scale without numbers, tell me when to reset.
In order to manage my meters, I’ve translated them to a meter for daily fulfillment and a meter for overwhelm. The meter for daily fulfillment means that I need to engage in my main interests of reading and writing to not feel underwhelmed. Daily fulfillment also means knowing that these interests can also become overwhelming if I work beyond my spoon allowance.
Both the SUDs scale and stress bucket fail to account for understimulation. Though I’m sensitive to sensory stimuli, am easily overloaded, avoiding overwhelm isn’t simply a matter of avoiding overstimulation. Maintaining wellness, for me, means managing overwhelm and avoiding underwhelm—managing overwhelm is, therefore, a matter of finding the right stimulation, though I often need to reset.
There are many ways to reset. I find the best way to reset is to follow my interests, seeking and accruing joy. I also recommend meditation. Yoga Nidra, the type of meditation I practice, provides deep sensory awareness as well as thought work and breath work, and allows me to repay sleep debt. The two podcasts I recommend for mediation are Breathe People and Aatma Life. I also recommend finding a neurodiversity-affirming therapist or life coach.