Autism, Stress, and Flow States

Many people with autism are stressed individuals who find the world a confusing place (Vermeulen, 2013). So how does someone with autism achieve a sense of flow? McDonnell & Milton (2014) have argued that many repetitive activities may achieve a flow state. One obvious area where flow can be achieved is when engaging in special interests. Special interests allow people to become absorbed in an area that gives them specialist knowledge and a sense of achievement. In addition, certain repetitive tasks can help people achieve a flow like state of mind. These tasks can become absorbing and are an important part of people’s lives. The next time you see an individual with autism engaging in a repetitive task (like stacking Lego or playing a computer game), remember that these are not in themselves negative activities, they may well be reducing stress.

If you want to improve your supports to people with autism from a stress perspective, a useful tool is to identify flow states for that person and try to develop a flow plan. Remember, the next time you see a person repeating seemingly meaningless behaviours, do not assume that this is always unpleasant for them – it might be a flow state, and beneficial for reducing stress.

Source: What is ‘flow’?

Flow state is a term coined by Csikszentmihalyi to describe “the experience of complete absorption in the present moment” (Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi, 2009). It is widely viewed as highly positive and many texts advise readers on how to attain it when performing tasks. Autistic people are sometimes puzzled that flow seems to be regarded as somewhat elusive and difficult to experience, since the common autistic experience of complete engagement with an interest fits the definition of flow well. Thus, it is not hard to find accounts of autistic detailed listening that seem to describe a flow state:

“When I work on my musical projects, I tend to hear the whole score in my head and piece every instrument loop detail where they fit. It relaxes me and makes me extremely aware of what I’m doing to the point that I lose track of time.”

Source: Autistic listening

I’m autistic and started a team at work called “Flow Patrol”. Flow seems to be a common autistic fascination, a special interest in itself. I suspect monotropic minds are more prone to flow.

See also:

Accommodations and The Many Forms of Difference

It really is exhausting and absurd.

The Many Forms of Difference – Ryan Boren

Networks, Written Communication, and Autistic Bricolage

I often think of my life, of my speech, as a database of words: Scripts, commonplaces, canned monologues that I recall, sometimes at will, sometimes by force. I am invoking the network not to stereotype me or my kind as computers, but to invoke the database as ordered fuckery. I mean that much of my spoken words are preceded. I mean that they are borrowed grammars, the rote and ritual that are both prized and demonized by shrinks and third grade teachers. I long for the parallel: the rhythm of the fingers against keys, the thoughts forged outside the grip of the other, tempoed lines that never meet.

Let us abstract together.

Talk and type as you will. Will the words. Hammer the rest.

Source: Typed Words, Loud Voices: A Collection – Autonomous Press

I very much relate to that all of that. I think and write via bricolage of the “ordered fuckery” of streams and created serendipity.

To invoke the network again:

It runs on software, the hacker ethos, and soft networks that wire up the planet in ever-richer, non-exclusive, non-zero-sum ways. Its structure is based on streams like Twitter: open, non-hierarchical flows of real-time information from multiple overlapping networks. In this order of things, everything from banal household gadgets to space probes becomes part of a frontier for ceaseless innovation through bricolage. It is a computer designed for rapid, disorderly and serendipitous evolution, within which innovation, far from being a bug, is the primary feature.

Source: A Tale of Two Computers

I suspect “ceaseless innovation through bricolage” describes quite a number of autistic minds.

See also: