January 21, 2021

Decision making autistic overload

By rosieweldon

Autistic overload is generally connected to sensory overload – which of course is prevalent in most autistic people’s lives. But this is not the only way our brains get overloaded.

As with sensory inputs our brains have an inability to filter out unnecessary aspects. I can either process absolutely everything, or nothing. When asked ‘how are you’ I can either allow my mind to process everything remotely connected to answering that question or shut it all down and say a scripted response. My mind can’t filter out what that person actually wants to know about how I am in that moment.

Until recently I didn’t realise how closely connected this inability to filter information was to making decisions. I hate making decisions. I’ve built a life around making as few decisions as possible – by eating the same foods, wearing the same clothes, sticking to the same routines. I have built a life with clearly defined steps and processes that offer my mind security and safety, a safe haven from needing to make decisions.

Decisions suck for a couple of reasons. For one it means I don’t have a clear routine in place, there is a lack of certainty. If I did, I wouldn’t need to decide. I wear the same shirts every day, so I don’t need to decide what to wear. Making a decision means something in my life has fallen between these cracks and potentially is a new uncertain situation.

The second and prominent reason is making decisions relies on processing information. I hate making decisions on the fly based on insufficient, incomplete information. If I am going to make a decision it needs to be the right one, the best one. Which can be a bit of a nightmare when it’s deciding what to have for lunch or what trainers to wear. I give all decisions the same analytical approach. I only know how to absorb all the information, no matter how relevant, and try to decide.

When it comes to accountancy this is great, the data is finite and objective, there is a right, or atleast best, decision to come to. However, in day to day life what happens when that is a social situation, or an emotional one? You take a mind that craves perfect and complete information and give it something as subjective and messy as emotions. That mind, my mind, tries desperately to place these emotions into the decision-making process as an analytical algorithm.

Various problems arise when I try to make decisions that involve other people, social situations and/or emotions. My mind starts to ‘overheat’ as it tries to place the aspects of the decisions. Not only can I not place them, but I likely don’t really understand them. Have I processed what that person wants properly? Am I reading the situation properly? Have I missed something? The problem for a mind that craves the absolute right answer is often in life there is not one right answer, not even a best answer. I only know how to be completely indifferent or find the right answer.

If I am placed in a situation where the input into a decision is subjective my mind will struggle. It will desperately try to place the information and be increasingly unable to do so. As the pressure mounts to make a decision and my mind churns faster and harder to make it, it won’t end well. I will either shutdown – leading to a drop off in my ability to do things like eye contact, touch and speech, or I will hit meltdown. Meltdown in a decision triggered situation causes me to cry and remove myself from the decision, often accompanied by frustration.

An autistic mind craves information yet overloads due to an inability to filter unnecessary information. It is exhausting and frustrating. Please be patient with us and allow us time to recover if our minds overload.  

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