Five Fantastic Flowcharts for Neurodiverse Brains


We recently got a small influx of emails with resources, which is absolutely wonderful! Taking from some of these recommendations, here are five flowcharts for neurodiverse brains.

There is the use of swearing in some of these resources.


1. Why Can’t I Seem to Do An Important Yet Very Simple Task?

An executive function focused flow chart by Sydni from What in the ADHD? because “When we struggle to do The Thing, it can be difficult to pinpoint the EXACT issue.” So, this flowchart is to help you workout what exactly the issue is and navigate executive dysfunction:

Image Description: Flowchart graphic titled, "Why Can't I Seem to Do An Important Yet Very Simple Task?" by What the ADHD. 

The questions are the following, starting after the statement, "You still haven't completed the task"

Do you want to do it?
If the answer is no, then it is a lack of motivation.
If the answer if yes, what are you doing right now, another task or nothing? 

If you answered "nothing lol" , have you been very busy or stressed recently? if yes then burnout, if no then ADHD paralysis.

If you answered that you were doing another task (not the task), is this task also important?
if the answer is not at all, then it is procrastination.
if the answer if yes, does the completion of this task help you make progress on The Task?
If no, then it is a lack of prioritization. If yes then stop stressin' you're right on track (but you might have some anxiety)

end of flowchart and end of image description
What In The ADHD’s Executive Dysfunction Focused Flowchart

2. You Feel Like Shit: A Self Care Game

You Feel Like Shit is an interactive selfcare guide which goes through a series of questions to break down what tasks to do and check you are looking after yourself. It is designed to be specifically useful for individuals who struggle with selfcare, executive dysfunction, and/or interpreting internal signals, such as hunger.

It’s designed to take as much of the weight off of you as possible, so each decision is very easy and doesn’t require much judgment… you can even go through this routine as soon as you wake up, as a preventative measure.


3. Anti-Procrastination Flowchart

The anti-procrastination flowchart was posted by redditor studentEnginerd in r/ADHD for feedback from other users, and you can see their suggestions here. The flowchart is colour coded into four stages and employs a range of skills which are from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), such as opposite action. The flowchart goes from the initial realisation that you are procrastinating (red), to planning your work (orange), to overcoming mental hurdles (yellow), and, finally, beginning your work (green).

Image Description: A large flowchart to help with procrastination split into four coloured blocks.

The flowchart starts red with the statement, "you notice yourself procrastinating" and looks to work out whether you know why you are procrastinating, suggesting you try to work this out if you don't. 

the flowchart then moves to the orange section where it suggests breaking down the bigger tasks into smaller more manageable tasks.

once this is complete the flowchart is in the yellow section which looks at navigating the mental hurdles stopping you from doing the task, looking at exploring what is making you anxious about the task and suggesting things like reaching out to others for help, practicing mindfulness and self-compassion.

Lastly, there is the green coloured section which suggests "opposite action", where you start working even though it is not what you feel like doing, and also getting to work.

end of flowchart and image description.
Anti-Procrastination Flowchart by studentEnginerd

4. A Flowchart For Getting to Sleep: A Playful Take On Sleep Hygiene

It is not uncommon for individuals under the neurodiversity umbrella to suffer from higher rates of insomnia than their neurotypical peers. Knowing what to do when you struggle to sleep so often can be really tricky, so having a handy and fun flowchart to help with sleep hygiene can be a useful tool! Lindsay Braman, a Seattle-based artist, therapist, and mental health illustrator, designed a fantastic and fun flowchart for sleep you can find here.


5. Am I Having A Brain Problem Or Being A Shithead?

Okay, this flowchart has a history! It was originally a text post by adhd, Private Investigator which was made visual by Life with ADHD who turned the post into a flowchart. Okay, that all seems simple, yes, but wait, there’s more! Much like my own ADHD fuelled rambles, this flowchart seems to go on beautifully for a while! This version is a remake of Life with ADHD’s flowchart by Yuutfa to make things a bit clearer and it is really very wonderful! This flowchart it validating, and although it is ADHD-focused, it seems like it would be useful for anyone struggling with executive dysfunction.

Image Description: Flowchart titled, "Am I Having A Brain Problem or Being A Shithead?" which was designed by yuutfa@tumblr based on the following text version by ADHD Pie on Tumblr:

‘am i Having A Brain Problem or Being a Shithead’: a short procrastination checklist
aka why tf am i procrastinating on The Thing (more like a flowchart, actually)
lots of people who have executive function difficulties worry about whether they’re procrastinating on a task out of laziness/simply wanting to be a jerk or mental struggles. this checklist might help you figure out which it is at any given time! (hint: it’s almost never laziness or being a jerk.) (obligatory disclaimer: this is just what works for me! something different might work better for you.)

1) do I honestly intend to start the task despite my lack of success?

yes: it’s a Brain Problem. next question
no: it’s shitty to say one thing & do another. better be honest with myself & anyone expecting me to do the task.
2) am I fed, watered, well-rested, medicated properly, etc?

yes: next question
no: guess what? this is the real next task
3) does the idea of starting the task make me feel scared or anxious?

yes: Anxiety Brain. identify what’s scaring me first.
no: next question
4) do I know how to start the task?

yes: next question
no: ADHD Brain. time to make an order of operations list.
5) do I have everything I need to start the task?

yes: next question
no: ADHD Brain lying to me about the steps again, dangit. first task is ‘gather the materials’.
6) why am i having a hard time switching from my current task to this new task?

i’m having fun doing what i’m doing: it’s okay to have fun doing a thing! if task is time-sensitive, go to next question.
i have to finish doing what i’m doing: might be ADHD brain. can I actually finish the current task or will I get trapped in a cycle? does this task really need to be finished?
the next task will be boring/boring-er than the current task: ADHD brain. re-think the next task. what would make it exciting? what am I looking forward to?
I might not have enough time to complete the task: ADHD brain wants to finish everything it starts. (if task is time-sensitive, go to next question)
i just want to make the person who asked me to do it angry: sounds like anxiety brain trying to punish itself, because I know I’ll be miserable if someone is angry at me. why do i think I deserve punishment?
no, I seriously want to piss them off: okay, i’m being a shithead
7) have I already procrastinated so badly that I now cannot finish the task in time?

yes: ADHD brain is probably caught in a guilt-perfection cycle. since I can’t have the task done on time, i don’t even want to start.
reality check: having part of a thing done is almost always better than none of a thing done. if I can get an extension, having part of it done will help me keep from stalling out until the extension deadline. i’ll feel better if I at least try to finish it.

no, there’s still a chance to finish on time: ADHD brain thinks that I have all the time in the world, but the truth is I don’t. 
reality check: if i’m having fun doing what I’m doing, I can keep doing it, but I should probably set a timer & ask someone to check on me to make sure I start doing the task later today.

8) I’ve completed the checklist and still don’t know what’s wrong!

probably wasn’t honest enough with myself. take one more look.
if I’m still mystified, ask a friend to help me talk it out

End of Image Description
Executive Dysfunction Focused Flowchart by Yuutfa

Disclaimer

Although these are useful resources and tools for working through tricky things, they are not a replacement for support and guidance from a trained professional.

The Author

This post was made from resources recommended which were emailed in by wonderfully neurodiverse individuals, with the exception of the first flowchart from What the ADHD which ally also added. The resources were pieced together to post by ally, who is autistic and had ADHD, and has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes where they write on psychology, neurodiversity, and life.



5 Ways to Cope with Autistic Burnout


5 Ways to Cope with Autistic Burnout

Although autistic burnout is something that is not well researched in academia, it is something that has been reported by many lived accounts of autistic individuals. However, a study published last year in the journal Autism In Adulthood titled “Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout, highlighted that is is in fact a very real problem that many autistic individuals face, and they defined it as stressor(s)/pressure(s) causing expectations of an individual to outweigh their abilities to cope leading to:

  1. Chronic Exhaustion
  2. Loss of Skills
  3. Reduced Tolerance to Stimulus

They also describe overall general negative impacts on their health, capacity for independent living, and quality of life that accompany autistic burnout and highlight the following as tools in recovering from it:

  1. Greater Acceptance & Social Support (they highlight lack of empathy from neurotypicals as a problem)
  2. Taking Time Off/Having Reduced Expectations
  3. Doing Things in an Autistic Way/Unmasking

Building on this incredibly useful study, we (five autistic adults here) have compiled our own tips on autistic burnout to share. So, here are five tips for navigating autistic burnout.


Tip 1: Taking Preventative Measures

Infographic titled "preventative" displaying a stop sign with text reading:
recognise and avoid potential burnout triggers, and take regular breaks

It is super important to recognise the things that can cause burnout. There can be big triggers which you can’t always prevent, but, at least some, you can prepare for in gentle ways, such as visiting a new school, college, university or place of work before you start there to help ease the transition. There can be lots of small things too which all add up, such as lots of social demands and uncomfortable sensory input, so it is important to take regular breaks to do what makes you feel comfortable and safe too.

I use noise-cancelling headphones and sunglasses to reduce how much information my brain needs to deal with when I go out and it helps a lot.

Finn

Tip 2: Unmask If & When You Can

Infographic titled "Avoid Masking" with a line drawing of happy and sad masks and text reading: " masking usually serves others' comfort before your own needs, it's okay to put yourself first sometimes "

Masking can be an automatic response that is hard to let down as it can encompass such a big part of some autistic individuals’ social lives, and their is also a safety aspect to it, so it might not always be something people want to try to put down, even when it is so taxing. However, if and when you can, letting yourself unmask can be a great way to avoid or reduce burnout as masking is a chronically demanding and fatiguing tool.

I’ve been trying to learn to not mask so much for a while now and I feel so much happier and energetic when I don’t need to do it, when I can just be me.

Xander

Tip 3: Look After Your Stimming & Sensory Needs

Infographic titled "Stim & Sensory Care" with an image of two line drawn people dancing and text reading: " allow yourself to stim and engage in soothing sensory activities; for example, laying under a weighted blanket, paint, bake, make slime, play music, etc. "

Meeting your sensory needs is an important part of selfcare, and ensuring you can stim in ways that work for you is important too. This could be anything from making sure you have time to move and stim freely (a secret dance party, if you will) and cultivating creative outlets as preventative strategies, to going under all the soft and weighted blankets and having very soft sensory lights on for calming visuals and just cocooning up for a while to heal when burnout gets too much.

I do this thing I call nesting, where I just go under all my blankets and set my light to a soft moving blue and I am just under all this comfortable soft blanketed pressure and it feels safe. I also like to listen to my favourite docuseries whilst nesting too which is about my special interest.

Ally

Tip 4: Setting Healthy Boundaries

infographic titled "Set Boundaries" with a digital picture of a traffic cone and text reading: " allow yourself to say 'no' to things to prevent yourself getting overwhelmed, it's okay to put yourself first when you need to"

A key trigger for autistic burnout is when the demands presented to us outweigh our current ability to cope, so being able to say no to new tasks before you start to become overwhelmed is a good skill to avoid things continuing to mount up and becoming far too much to deal with. However, sometimes things just are to much on their own, and that is okay too, you can ask for help from those you know and trust if you are struggling and feeling overwhelmed.

I do work that I am very passionate about and I also am very passionate about routines. I combine this now, although it has been harder than one might think. So, when I finish work for the day I no longer respond to emails or requests, I may still work on projects but no work communication after 5.30pm, that is a boundary.

R.

Tip 5: Recharge with Some Alone Time

infographic titled "alone time" with an image of digital line art of a battery being charged and text reading: "you need to recharge and you will probably need time alone for this and that is totally okay, solitude is both valid and can be a bit of a necessity here, just remember to have people you trust around you when you are ready to 'rejoin the world' as it is okay to need there support too "

When experiencing autistic burnout, the world can just seem so very overwhelming and alone time can be a really valuable tool here to recharge and feel better. Spending some time engrossed in a special interest or cocooned in your favourite weighted blanked or playing that one piece on piano over and over again until everything feels gentler again, for example, is totally valid and okay. However, do remember to access the support of those you trust around you and of mental health professionals too if it does all get too much, as sometimes burnout can last and it can be hard and you don’t have to deal with not being able to deal with things alone.

Don’t wait until you’re experiencing burnout to start looking after yourself- it’s no secret that the world is capable of being a rough place, and you deserve just as much as anyone else to be kind to, and gentle with yourself, and you don’t need to be actually burnt-out or nearing burn out to justify taking some time alone to recharge. Don’t let anyone tell you that self-care is unproductive, because it absolutely is productive! When I’m needing time to myself, I’ll usually watch gentle, low-energy YouTube videos in bed (if time allows), or I’ll listen to Jimi Hendrix, Motorhead at high volumes- for some reason I find loud guitar music soothing.

It’s also okay if you need to take alone time away from socialising (where applicable), good friends should be respectful of your need to take time to yourself, and by looking after yourself, you’ll be able to socialise more readily and you’ll get much more out of the time you do spend with friends and/or family!

Remember that you deserve kindness- you deserve kindness from others, and you deserve to be kind to yourself.

Mark

More Information on Autistic Burnout

Autistic Fatigue – A Guide for Autistic Adults by the National Autistic Society

“Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout by Raymaker et al. (2020) in Autism in Adulthood

Autistic burnout, explained by Sarah Deweerdt in Spectrum News


The Authors

This article was pieced together by ally, who is autistic herself, and has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes where they write on psychology, neurodiversity, and life. The content post was co-authored by ally and four other autistic adults who all have a range of lived experience(s) of burnout: Finn, Xander, R., and Mark. Finn and Xander actually helped in the initial construction of Practical Neurodiversity before ally, Finn, and Xander all experienced burnout themselves to different degrees and had to put the project on hold. There is an irony that this was one of the only posts from their initial drafts months ago, finally being published, and it is a wonderful thing to be able to finally bring it all together to post.