How I Keep Myself (Mostly) On Track


white printer paper on white table

Find Your Own ND System This Spooky Season

Introduction

There are so many systems offered to those under the neurodiversity umbrella to help us stay on track of things: from bullet journals to calendar apps. Usually we are recommended tools from neurotypicals who just don’t quite get how we work. So, in this post, Marina, a wonderfully kind autistic individual, shows their own personal neurodiverse ways of staying organised and on track. She also offers suggestions and a download for others to try too. They highlight the importance, of finding your own systems, things that work for you individually, ultimately noting that there isn’t a right way to do all of this and that that is okay.

My Systems

Over the years, I’ve realized that planners don’t help me because the information is inside a book. If I don’t open it, it practically doesn’t exist. If I misplace it or forget to use it one day, it’s difficult to get back in the habit of using it.

So… here are the systems that work for me!


Whiteboards

I have two whiteboards in my flat.

One is in the hallway, so my flatmate and I can put our schedules on it. It helps us remind each other about events and know when the other person will be out or busy. I use a green marker and she uses a red marker.

Image Description:
Small whiteboard with blue frame and green and red text. Split into days of week. Some text has been scribbled over. 
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Shared Whiteboard

The second whiteboard is the most important. It’s in my room and it keeps track of my week.

It’s split into 5 sections:

1 – Week

  • I have the days of the week with numbers listed and I write the main event of the day
  • Updates Sunday night

2 – Today

  • Day and number
  • The day’s schedule in detail
  • Daily to-do
  • Dinner ideas
  • Updates every night

3 – Weekly/Long-Term To-Do

  • Write the deadline!

4 – Morning Routine

  • Sometimes I get stuck in the mornings, and it helps to know what I’m meant to do next

5 – Notes/Reminders

  • Anything that will make me happy
  • General reminders
Image Description:
Large whiteboard with wooden frame. Split into five sections, labelled with dates and times.
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Personal Whiteboard

Calendar

I got this cheap calendar and have it tacked to my bookshelf. All important events are added here, and I cross off the day once it’s over.

Image Description:
Red and white calendar open on October 2021 with messy writing.
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Calendar

Daily Routine and Habit Trackers

Image Description:
Diagram, 4 rows, 3 columns all separate tables.
First column has tables labelled Morning, Study, Free, and Night with relevant icons. Second has smaller 5x7 tables with days of week. Third has 5x1 tables labelled with tasks.

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Weekly Habit Tracker – downloadable and editable version at the end of article

Guide to this chart:

It’s split into Morning, Study, Other, and Night. Each table is 7 days’ worth.

The idea is that I may not do every single activity every day, but throughout the week I want to do them most days and I want to keep track of it. I struggle with maintaining a strict routine but there are things that I want to make sure I do.

Morning and Night are routine trackers. I can make sure I took my medications, brushed my teeth, did all the important tasks. Sometimes I forget, or I do things in the wrong order. It’s helped me to have it written out and be able to cross it off.

Study and Other are habit trackers. I don’t need to do every activity every day, but I like to make sure I’ve done them all at least twice throughout the week.

The Other (aka free time) section also serves to give me ideas for times I am bored and need something to do. I might realize I haven’t played video games in a while, or maybe I spent the whole week playing video games and should maybe pick up a book.

I usually keep this in a poly pocket so I can use a whiteboard marker to cross it off and reuse the same sheet.

I’ve attached an editable word document of mine at the end of the post.


Final Thoughts

Whenever I notice something isn’t working, I adapt it. It takes time to figure out what you need and what works for your brain, but it’s great to have A System (or several systems). One of my close friends loves to spend a day planning her bullet journal spreads and decorating it. That overwhelms me and I can’t imagine relying on it. My whiteboards stress her out because I have my deadlines right in front of me. Some people love their computer’s calendar, there are loads of apps out there, a regular planner is fantastic for others, etc.

It takes a lot of experimentation to find your own system, so keep at it and do whatever works for you. There isn’t a right way to do it.


Downloads



Tools for University: Referencing with Mendeley


Image Description:
a young masculine presenting person sitting on a green grass field with a laptop and both arms raised, and fists clenched excitedly with superimposed text reading, “Referencing with Mendeley in 8 Steps”. 
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Referencing with Mendeley in 8 Steps



Introduction

As tasks begin to mount moving further into the university semester, for some, coursework can be a big struggle. It can be especially hard to keep track of and manage references for essays for individuals who may struggle with executive dysfunction or staying organised due to their autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or other flavour of neurodiversity. So, Niko, an autistic university graduate, with a lot of experience managing all of this, has put together a handy guide to using Mendeley to help stay on top of your coursework.

Hello from Niko

Hi hello. This is (hopefully) a short Tutorial on how to use the Reference Management Software Mendeley, as well as its associated plug-in and extension. Using Mendeley helped me greatly in my Research Project, as I can organise the stuff I have to read through and reference them quickly and easily on my reports.


Step 1: Downloading Mendeley

This step is for downloading the Mendeley desktop app, Mendeley Web Importer, and Mendeley Cite for Word. You can also use this for other word processing software, like LibreOffice or Google Docs, but for this tutorial, we will be using Microsoft Word.

  • Download the desktop app on the Mendeley website.
  • The other parts can be installed via the desktop app (see image below).
Image Description: the tools drop down menu at the top left of Mendeley is circled to highlight the space where you can install Mendeley Web Importer, Mendeley Cite for Word and search for articles online.  
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Where to Install Mendeley Web Importer, Mendeley Cite for Word, and any other features.

From my own experience, and others, it is best to use your personal email when making the Mendeley Elsevier account because there was plenty of login issues when using your university email. However, remember that your university email is the one that gives you access to the articles in the first place. Thus, use personal email for Mendeley and use university email for accessing articles.


Step 2: Find An Article To Reference

  • When you get to the web page of the article, click on the Mendeley Icon on the top right of your browser.
  • I’m using Google Chrome, might be different on other browsers.
  • Once the extension loads, you can add the article and its PDF to your Mendeley Library by clicking Add.
  • In the image below, I made a Collection in my Mendeley desktop app called Sharky McSharkface. Thus, the article will be added to that folder as well as your overall collection of references.
Image Description: a pop up of Mendeley to the right of the screen with the add button over an article on thresher sharks.

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Adding a reference to your Mendeley Library

Step 3: Syncing Things Up

The image below shows the collection of references I have added to the Collection I named Sharky McSharkface. The reason why the Sync button is highlighted is that sometimes the reference don’t get added immediately to your library, so you have to tell the app to sync up whatever you added on the browser for it to show up on the desktop app.

Image Description:
the Sync button in the Mendeley library is highlighted at the top right hand side of the page.
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Syncing your references

Step 4: Reading on the Mendeley App

  • Once you have stuff added to the desktop app, you can just read it on the Mendeley app instead.
  • In this way, you don’t have those usual 50 tabs open on your browser. You can open multiple articles and shift through them via the tabs.
  • To go back to your collection, just click on Library next to the Mendeley icon on the top left.
Image Description: an article titled, "The skin The skin microbiome of the common thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus) has low taxonomic and gene function β-diversity" being viewed in Mendeley.

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Reading on Mendeley

Step 5: Mendeley Cite

  • Now to reference stuff on a report. Whenever you want to do that, go to References on Word and click on Mendeley Cite.
  • The green circle is where you can browse through your Collections (they’re just folders really…) and the red circle is for you to search terms in your Library.
  • You can search for the topic, authors, publishers, date of publishing, website etc. and the Mendeley Cite will browse through your Library to find what you’re looking for.
Image Description: the References tab of Mendeley Cite open on the right hand side of a Word document where the top dropdown box is for your Collections and the search box below is where you can search the your library.
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Using Mendeley Cite: Green Circle = Top Circle | Red Circle = Bottom Circle

Step 6: Adding That Citation

When you find whatever reference you’re looking for from your Library, you can add it by ticking it and clicking Insert 1 Citation.

Image Description:
Mendeley Cite open in the right hand side of word with a reference chosen by inputting a tick in the box to choose it.
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Citing: ticking it

You should then have the citation inserted automatically.

Image Description:
Mendeley Cite open in the right hand side of word with a citation inserted in the main document in APA 7 format, the citation tab displays other citation styles available.
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Citing: Inserting 1 Citation

Step 7: Changing Citation Style

  • You can then change the citation style of the document by going to the Citation Style Tab on Mendeley Cite.
  • Choose whatever citation style is required.
  • In the image below, I clicked Select another style and searched up the citation style for a Chemical Engineering Journal.
Image Description:
Mendeley Cite open in the right hand side of word with a citation inserted in the main document in Chemical Engineering Journal format, the citation tab displays other citation styles available under Select Styles with the option to search for and update the style of citation.
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Citing: Selecting Another Style
  • You can then cite as you type by having Mendeley Cite open.
Image Description:
Mendeley Cite open in the right hand side of word with citations inserted in the main document in Chemical Engineering Journal format, the references tab in Mendeley Cite displays other references for citation with the option to insert a bibliography.
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Citing As You Go

Step 8: Bibliography

  • Lastly, adding a bibliography is done by clicking More and then Insert Bibliography (see last picture in Step 7).
  • Ta-da, the bibliography is added wherever your cursor is!
Image Description:
Mendeley Cite open in the right hand side of word with bibliography inserted in the main document in Nature format, the Citation Style tab in Mendeley Cite displays other styles for citation.
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Inserting Bibliography
  • Also interesting to note that changing the citation style also changes the style of the bibliography.
  • The image above has the Nature citation style and the one below has the American Psychological Association 7th edition citation style.
  • Notice the change in both the referencing style and how they write the bibliography.
Image Description:
Mendeley Cite open in the right hand side of word with bibliography inserted in the main document in American Psychological Association 7th edition format, the Citation Style tab in Mendeley Cite displays other styles for citation.
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Changing Bibliography Style

And that’s it. From my experience, super helpful in organising your reading list and referencing stuff. Plus, it skips the chore of writing down references entirely.



Making A Communication Guide For Appointments


As someone who struggles a lot with certain aspects of communication, especially when the ways in which I communicate are not understood by those I am interacting with and are not met with patience, I often rely upon many different tools to navigate the world, one of which is a guide which quite literally communicates my ways of communicating.

This guide is a really useful thing to have, especially for giving to people I am going to meet for appointments as they can have some understanding and preparation in place on their part for how they are going to facilitate communication with me. It means I am not always expected to try my very best to align to a neuronormative expectation of how I am meant to be, because they know to meet me at my level. It also means they see beyond a label: they do not just read that I will be nonverbal there and assume I have nothing to say, they know I am funny and smart and opinionated and have my own ways of communicating with them.

In this post I will break down the kind of things I put in each section of my communication guide and then leave a blank copy for you to download and fill in if you want to.


Title

Firstly, I start with the title, I personally do not title mine with anything beyond my name and NHS number as the document has the title, but if you make your own you can come up with all sorts of titles. I do quite like the idea of calling it: Communicating Communication.

Breaking Down Communication Generally

The first page is focused generally on how I communicate and what helps me to be understood and understand others.

What Facilitates Communication

In this section I put what kind of things help me with communication generally. It is the first section so it is kind of like an overview of some of the most important things someone would need to know to help ensure good communication between me and them. Some examples of things I have in here include:

  • Having regularity to day and time of appointments.
  • Having face to face appointments if possible.
  • It is really helpful if I feel understood, and that my specific experiences are recognised.
  • I like to clarify details – having patience and time to do this is really useful.
  • Having a little bit of time to get to know the person I’m speaking to is helpful, and being introduced to new people I will work with.

How I Communicate

In this section I give an overview of the ways in which I communicate to help the person better understand me and how to communicate with me. Some examples of things I have in here include:

  • I am unable to verbally communicate in appointments, but can communicate using text/writing.
  • I can struggle with literal statements, and misinterpret some humour (I personally think I have a fantastic sense of humour myself!).
  • I take people’s word choices seriously and am quite pedantic about language.
  • I find it helpful to clarify meaning to ensure I have understood.

Other Information About Me That Is Useful To Know

In this section I just give a broad overview of anything else I think might be useful to know for others meeting me. As I often use this for health professionals, I tend to focus here about how I may express things like pain or emotions, as they are important parts of communication too. Some examples of things I have in here include:

  • I can find it difficult to know what it is I am feeling emotionally.
  • I struggle to express distress and pain.
  • I have a poor concept of time.
  • I need to move about, this is not me being rude or being bored, it is self-stimulator behaviour and something I need to do.

Breaking Down Communication Appointments

This is the second page and focuses on how to best support me through an appointment in terms of communication and is a really useful tool to send out to people before I meet them.

Things To Consider Before Appointments

In this section I include things, such as how to contact me in terms of arranging the appointment and what can be done beforehand to ensure I feel comfortable attending. Some examples of things I have in here include:

  • The best means for arranging appointments is by mail or email.
  • It is really helpful to know the purpose of the appointment in advance.

Things To Consider At The Start Of Appointments

In this section I advise on what is best to do when we meet, how we introduce ourselves, and how we start the appointment. Some examples of things I have in here include:

  • It is helpful to revisit the purpose of the appointment.
  • It is a good time to check in with how I am feeling, as this might impact on my ability to engage in the session.

Things To Consider During Appointments

This section focuses on what is important to communication throughout the appointment, both in terms of being understood, but more importantly here (since I have covered a lot of how I communicate), in terms of understanding the other person. Some examples of things I have in here include:

  • If there are distracting noises, I will struggle to process what is being said.
  • If you are giving me the choice of something it is best to only have two options (listing things can be tricky for me).
  • I can find it hard to express when I am struggling – it is helpful if you check with how I am managing during the appointment.

Things To Consider At The End Of Appointments

This is the last section where I relay how to best end appointments with me in a way that works with my styles of communication. Some examples of things I have in here include:

  • I find it useful if we can recap on any action points discussed / agreed.
  • It is helpful to have some time for me to ask any questions or clarify anything I’m not sure about.
  • If the purpose of the appointment has not been met, it is useful to have some reassurance about this.
  • I find it helpful if we can schedule any future appointment(s) together at the end.


The Author

This is Practical Neurodiversity’s first blog post. It was made by @pallyallywrites who created this space and who has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes, where they write about 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.