I'm not really arguing with this one. As I've said before, routine can be a wonderful thing, a soothing counter-balance to the ways of the world. It can make you feel in control as well as reassure you that everything has a purpose and there won't be any nasty surprises.
But it's also a stick to beat us with. I've often heard other people go on about how their aspie won't deviate from a routine, how they couldn't do a certain thing because it clashed with the routine. I've even been accused of it myself, when I've not wanted to do something spontaneous because I could see the day stretched out ahead of me in a planned way.
I think the only time I've heard routine and aspies being seen as wholly positive is when some poor child is being shoe-horned into school and their parents say that the part their little aspie likes is the school routine, that they find it comforting. Any other time and the aspie who loves routines is seen as a fly in the ointment of this grand world, full of opportunity and diversity. Right?
Well...I'd like to put my hand up here and resist the temptation to poke you in the eye with it. You see, from my point of view, I say that the world in general also loves routine. That as much as you criticise the aspie for being a fixed creature, the world seems trapped in the same way.
For instance, what is routine exactly? To the aspie, it's the way that things should be done, either the way they are organised or thought of, or simply the events that make up any given day or hour. Routine is simply a word to hang lots of different things on which mean something to the person and which are often repeated.
For the world at large, routine means something being done over and over. The definition is:
A sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program.
So, to the world, the aspie follows a sequence of actions regularly, as if their lives exist within a fixed program. All right then, that may be true, but the whole world is the same!
This fixed program could apply to how we behave towards each other, from the small routines of how we greet one another to the more complex ones of how we should behave within conversations and social situations. Aspies do not follow the routines of social situations, both large and small - we are often in trouble because of this, so we know it's true.
The world is also routine when it comes to how we should progress through life. It is an accepted routine to go through school, get a job, progress in your career, meet someone and settle down and so on. These are seen as natural progressions in the world, the routine of life in so many ways.
The aspie may not be able to move through these stages in the same way or may stall and go back. In many ways, the aspie won't progress past the school part, as all of life is a learning experience and there is always something new to discover.
For the great journey of life, aspies buck the trend and don't usually follow the routine prescribed as the norm. Life goes on, people send their babies to nursery school and we all sing the same song, again.
The routine of dating is a big one, don't you think? Girls' magazines thrive on it, womens' magazines make a business out of the more seasoned daters who want to learn the rules for grown up dating and relationship ethics. To the aspie, this seems like an absolute miasma of confusion. Every rule seems written for a different handbook from the one we were given.
The smaller routines, like how to order in a restaurant, how you behave at the table, what you should and should not be doing with the knives and forks, how many napkins you're allowed to use and why no one else is washing the spoon with vinegar: all these little things, easily accessible to non-aspies, as a normal routine, have to be learned by the aspie.
If we don't follow the routine, we draw stares and are possibly accused of being too fixed in our silly routines to enjoy dining out - our routines involving having the right table, not sitting in the chair facing the other diners, having enough time to study the menu, calling to the waitress before she's ready to come back, asking for another glass, using all the napkins because you needed one for your lap, one to keep for after the meal, the one wet with vinegar so you could wash the spoon and the spare one just in case.
The routines of normal dining are broken up by the aspie routines of enjoyable/safe/healthy dining. The routines of conversation also fall foul of the aspie approach, as do so many other routines, encountered on a daily basis and treated as being what everyone does, until the aspie wanders along and ricochets through them, scattering them in all directions and wondering what the fuss is about.
You see, our silly routines, which are so important to us, are seen as a quirk of personality and they are an annoying quirk because we often follow them despite what is seen as acceptable. But I would ask, how is this so different from the routines imposed on us all by modern society? Why is it not a routine to do things in a certain way, but it is a routine for me to do things my own way?
What makes society the judge of a routine? Why does it see its own routines as normal behaviour, when so many aspies exist within society and probably don't do things the same way? Why are society's routines so rigid but must be followed when mine have to be pushed aside and dismissed?
Yes, I acknowledge that the routines within society are there for the benefit of a great many people whereas mine are just for me (and anyone else who wants a really clean spoon), but they are big and little brothers. Routine does not change to suit the moment: it either is a routine or it is not.
Don't pretend the big brother routine, grinning behind you in the playground is just what everybody does then call my little brother routine, hiding next to the fence, a silly obsession which helps nobody. They are part of the same family, you just have to take a better look at them.
The problem is that my routines are always going to seem very small compared to everyone else's and my arguments for keeping them are not as good as the arguments for following the ones other people like. This is why aspies keep to their routines in a more muted, private way, so as not to incur discussion or ridicule. If we know that you'll be embarrassed when we ask for more napkins, we'll be careful to ask when you're not looking, but we'll still ask.
Just remember, though, how uncomfortable you feel when we do something outside the norm and outside your comfort zone. It's not good, is it? That niggledy feeling at the back of your neck, like a cold finger just nipped you there. It's much better to feel happy and comfortable when things are done the right way, don't you agree?
Yes, so do we.
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