Why are people with autism so resistant to change in routine?


Of all the features of autism this one intrigues me the most. People with autism are known for strict adherence to a particular routine and any break in routine is very stressful to them and this even extends to diet wherein they will only want to eat very specific foods and nothing else. What’s the science behind this?

In: 5

The science is roughly the same as the science behind white noise. (Yes, this is going to be a colossal bastardization of a heavily complex topic, deal with it.)

I’ll take an example that most people can relate to: Listening to music while needing to focus, for most people, leads to an easier time to focus, because your brain doesn’t have to pay attention to its surrounding noises (as they are less loud that your music). This leaves more brain power for the task at hand, and you can still hear the outstanding sounds, like a car crash, a fire alarm bell, or your parents calling your name out from another room, but it mutes out the cat climbing down from the washing machine, the dog having fun with its ball, and your little brother learning new and colorful words while playing video games.

Now, why white noise helps with calming down, and falling asleep, for most people: Roughly the same effect. It creates an expected background sound, so that your body can focus on resting, instead of reacting to a teen walking on the sidewalk while dribbling a basketball.

The focus of those two examples, is that you no longer have to feel the pressure to react to every single, very little thing with your full attention just because you have heard something.

Back to autism: A routine essentially removes the stress by ensuring they know and have confirmed that this is not only a normal, but also know to be safe course of action. They don’t have to panic or worry it’ll hurt them un-necessarily, they don’t have to make the active decision of what they have for breakfast, they don’t have to worry about that, leaving their brain more available energy and power to deal with more important parts of the day, like the actual work they have to do, for instance.

A routine is literally white noise, but in action form.

Take this example: You know how if you’re in a really noisy, crowded place, it can be super overwhelming? Like, there’s so much going on you can’t focus on anything and it’s just exhausting? Well, for a lot of people with autism, their brains have a hard time filtering out **unnecessary information**. So even ordinary situations can feel like that super crowded, noisy place.

Having a strict routine helps create a sense of predictability and control in a world that can often feel overwhelmingly chaotic. It’s like having a map in a really confusing city. If you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing, it’s a lot less stressful than if you’re just wandering around aimlessly.

As for the food thing, that often ties into sensory issues. People with autism might be more sensitive to certain textures, smells, or tastes. So, they might find a lot of foods unpleasant or even unbearable.

**TL;DR**: Autistic brains have trouble filtering info, making the world feel chaotic. Routines help them have a little control over all the unknown variables of daily life.