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Decision making as an autistic person

Decision making is hard for autistic people. This article looks at why and how we can make decision making less stressful.

I really struggle with decision making. I even struggle with making simple decisions such as what flavour ice cream to get or what to have for tea. In fact, these small decisions are often the most exhausting to make and are the main reason why I rely on sameness: eating the same meals everyday, wearing the same clothes and buying the same things from the shop.

Bigger decisions, such as choosing a degree are even harder and one of the main reasons I actually chose to pursue medicine is because it would reduce uncertainty. I’d have something to pursue and a guaranteed career path at the end of my degree. In addition, it gives me a goal that every decision I make can relate back to.

I just wanted to share a quote that I came across a a few days ago that I thought was really quite profound.

If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another. The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.

Deepak Choprat
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It resonated with me because I used to feel very much paralysed by decision making. I think catastrophysing and overthinking all stem from the black and white thinking that is a typical autistic trait. Often, my brain leads me to think that there are only two possible scenarios: Good or bad. In reality there are many possibilities to every situation with equally as many factors to influence them. This thinking just leads to an overall snowball effect of spirallig into thoughts about what ifs. I often overthink any decision I make and obsess over what could have happened differently, as well as what I may have done wrong. Like many autistic people, I am highly self critical.

I think i’m extremely good at making logical decisions, especially when it is concerning other people which I think is in part due to being able to detach myself from the situation. I think that making decisions is all about gathering data for me. I like to research things extensively before jumping to conclusions, thus having a lot of data to consolidate my choices. If I have a lot of data, or all the pieces to the puzzle so to speak, then I am able to be confident in my choice. This could explain why I am bad at making decisions relating to any interpersonal issues as I am unable to gather sufficient data or worry that I have misunderstood and gathered the wrong data.

There is also the factor of uncertainty that decision making brings. Oftentimes this fear of uncertainty can be a driver of decision making. Autistic people struggle with uncertainty, often more than neurotypical people, so if an option gives less uncertainty, then it could be a better decision. There are so many variables in every single part of our lives. Things fail, people lose, things go wrong all the time. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. There’s only so much you can prepare for things. So much of life is unpredictable and control is just an illusion that helps us stay sane. I may feel in control of everything in my life, but a natural disaster could suddenly jeopardise it all. No matter what I do, nothing will ever go completely to plan. Which is hard to accept but that’s why I really like the above quote, because it views things in a different way.

I think additionally, one of the main issues with autistic people and decision making is our ability to deal with the consequences. This is due to being so self critical about our mistakes and ruminating over small details. We hold onto these minor things as if they are memories that should be cherished – or in my case, factors in future decision making (hence why it can be overwhelming when. so many factors come into play).

All of this indecisiveness can lead to us making good decisions, likely better decisions than neurotypical people however, neurotypical people are often able to better deal with the consequences of poor decisions and don’t waste so much of their life worrying.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

Here are my top tips for decision making:

  1. Try to remember the above quote when you are stuck in a cycle of trying to make the perfect choices.
  2. Rather than making one big decision, maybe make small choices along the way. For example, if you are making a choice about changing career, you could volunteer in that area for a while first.
  3. If making a small decision like what to cook for tea, you could either stick to the same meals throughout the week or use an app that looks at what food you have in and tells you what to make based on that.
  4. Shop online specifically for what you want so you won’t be overwhelmed by the choices available.
  5. Write a pros and cons list down and think rationally about the outcomes of each option.
  6. Try to do things that are out of your comfort zone, it may be hard at first but it will open up more opportunities in the future.
  7. Remember that nothing is permanent and there is always a way out of something if you don’t like it.

4 replies on “Decision making as an autistic person”

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