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Spoon Theory & Autism

Happy New Year! A lot has been on my mind since my last post (a while ago) and I want to take some time today to share with you all.

Perhaps you’ve heard of something called, “Spoon Theory”? Its origin can be traced back to Christine Miserandino (The Spoon Theory), a woman living with lupus, who takes the time to explain to her friend what it ‘feels’ like to live with a chronic illness. She further articulates that, “…the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to…a gift most people take for granted”. Even though her friend logically understood the physical symptoms of lupus, she was unable to grasp the daily impact of lupus on Christine’s life. Thus Spoon Theory was born,  

“[t]he spoon theory is a disability metaphor used to explain the reduced amount of energy available for activities of daily living and productive tasks that may result from disability or chronic illness. Spoons are an intangible unit of measurement used to track how much energy a person has throughout a given day. Each activity requires a given number of spoons, which will only be replaced as the person “recharges” through rest. A person who runs out of spoons has no choice but to rest until their spoons are replenished”. (Spoon Theory_Wikipedia). 

I think this is a concise definition, however I’d like to explain ‘spoons’ in the context of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and how it relates to me.

spoon-theory
Spoon Theory as explained by Christina Miserandino

My last blog post was titled, Know your limit. Play within it. and I am beginning to really understand the interaction between knowing my limits (# of spoons/day) and actually playing within them (rationing my spoons to last a full day). The latter is something that I struggle with daily, especially since ASD is an invisible disability and I can usurp the ‘system’ and pretend like I’m NT; this nevertheless results in costing me more spoons and I’ve had to learn some very hard lessons along the way. Each day I ‘receive’ (not literally) a finite number of spoons and the quantity and quality of the spoons varies greatly. I can greatly empathize and identify with Cynthia Kim from Musings of an Aspie, when she explains what’s in her “spoon drawer” and how it affects her daily life.

my-spoons
Cynthia Kim’s Spoon Drawer

In my life, I must count the cost of work, social, home, and family obligations by prioritizing what ‘needs’ to get done that day, then I move on to evaluate if I have any leftover spoons. Since I’ve started teaching, the number of spoons I use up daily has increased, as a larger proportion of spoons are used up for work and the number of remaining spoons has significantly decreased. There are moments where I’ve not counted the cost of spoons needed for my day and have ‘run out’; unfortunately this has resulted in either a meltdown or a shutdown from being too overstimulated (see ‘High Functioning’ Autism: Social Energy & Overstimulation for more details). I am getting smarter at using strategies to help me manage my day well, for example, I use alarms on my phone throughout the day at work to prompt me of things that need to happen (starting/ending class on time, yard duty, meetings, planning etc.). These alarms help reduce the quantity of “Executive Function Spoons” needed for each day, as it frees up other spoons that serve as ‘buffer’ spoons (spoons that I don’t want to use unless it is an emergency). My goal for 2017 is to better refine my skills at being able to identify the cost of certain activities; it won’t be perfect, not do I expect it to be and it will be a challenge to stay within my limits because that sometimes means missing out on fun things (and who doesn’t want to have fun?). The reality is that some activities simply cost me too much and unfortunately, I end up paying for it that same day and/or the following day. This past year, I’ve definitely grown in my understanding of my limits and how disrespecting them is detrimental to my mental health. I hope to focus on respecting my limits so I can stay comfortably within them.

Cynthia makes some excellent points by reminding her readers that:

“One strategy that I think sometimes autistic people forget exists is borrowing someone else’s spoons by asking for help.”

As much as I strive to be independent, there’s no denying that life is easier (and more fun) by being part of a community. This community could be composed of family, friends, mentors, or counsellors and each fulfilling a different role, with varying degrees of intensity . The point is that, we all need help from time to time, and it is comforting to know that there are people out there that care and that it is okay to ask for help.

spoontheory2

Letting go of the fantasy that I can do everything I want all the time has been the hardest to accept. Cognitively I understand my limits, however having the strength of character to make wise choices for my daily life is what’s most important. It is okay to let go of things and in fact, your life will be better off because of it. Cynthia Kim is a woman with ASD (or Asperger’s, just like me) and so I’ll close with her words, as I think she explains it best:

“And finally, the hard one: let go. Sometimes, no matter how elaborately I structure, change, accommodate, plan and think about conserving my spoons, I’m forced to admit that something important will still have to go. This is really tough to face.”

keep-calm-and-save-spoons

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13 thoughts on “Spoon Theory & Autism

    1. Glad you’ve learned about spoon theory! I’ve explained it to some of my friends and it’s definitely easier to say, “no thanks” to social events because I simply state: “I don’t have enough spoons”/”It’ll cost me too many spoons” and I’m immediate understood without being judged for cancelling at the last-minute. I’m still working on discerning my daily spoon capacity and don’t always know that I cannot handle something until it’s the day of the event or worse, when it’s occurring; either way, it gives me a guilt-free ‘out’ 😀

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        1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think it’s easier on everyone if we are clear and honest with not only ourselves, but those we might make commitments to.

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    1. Thank you! So cool that you already knew about it… a good number of people are already aware and I think that generally is good for society because we can be more compassionate towards one another.

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