Written by Emma Marsh
The question of, “What are you going to do this year to better yourself?” can seem overwhelming when you live in a disabling world, and the obvious response: “Just trying to keep my head above water, meet my basic needs for regular food and hydration, remember to take my medication, attend to my health issues, keep a tidy home, work and headspace, and “do the things” that my executive dysfunction, interoception differences and passion-driven focus are not particularly geared towards doing” is not the response they’re after.
So, in the interests of taking this additional demand off Autistic individuals and to set you or the Autistic individuals you support up for success in 2024, we’ve decided to share the Reframing Autism team’s top 5 “life hacks” – a collection of technologies and techniques that we’ve found actually help to ease some of life’s everyday challenges.
Goblin.tools is a website and app that offers a collection of 6 simple, single-task tools, designed using AI to help neurodivergent people with tasks they find overwhelming or difficult. Some RA team members – and their children – have found it really helpful. The tools include:
MagicToDo which simplifies tasks by breaking them down into simple step-by-step instructions – “breaking things down so you don’t”. It’s very useful for approaching a task so large that you just don’t know where to begin, such as cleaning the house.
The Judge will let you know if you’re misreading the tone of something. Enter some text and the Judge will respond, ‘Your text comes across as … (angry, condescending, friendly or judgemental, etc.). It can be very useful to type in an email before you send it to check if there’s a chance it will be misinterpreted.
Formalizer takes your words and will make them sound more professional, formal or social – also billed as a tool to “turn the spicy thoughts into classy ones, or vice versa”.
The Estimator can give you an idea of how long something will take you to complete.
The Compiler can compile your brain dump into a list of tasks.
And the Chef tool lets you enter the ingredients that are in your fridge and will produce a recipe for you with those ingredients – no last-minute dash to a bright and noisy supermarket required.
Finch is an app that has been increasingly adopted by our communities to improve their self care. It uses a virtual pet bird to help you complete the self care goals you set for yourself. It also has a suite of useful additions like deep breathing exercises, grounding techniques, trigger managers and reflective questionnaires. By combining healthy practices with a virtual pet they can dress, house and take on holidays, it is the motivator one RA team member uses to beat Autistic inertia. It even has neurodiversity-promoting accessories you can equip your Finch friend with such as a rainbow t-shirt or flag with an infinity symbol on it. There is a free and paid version.
If you struggle to remember to do something each morning or evening, such as take medicine, you may like to try what one of our team members does and tie the activity to feeding your pet breakfast and dinner. “I’ve bundled the task of taking my meds with feeding the cat and now the cat meowing is an automatic alarm,” says one team member.
Another team member for whom “out of sight is out of mind” (but they don’t want to be overwhelmed by having everything on display), they just leave one thing out which is mentally tied to other things. For example, instead of having all their supplements cluttering up the counter, they just leave one packet of iron tablets in a ceramic dish on the bench. “When I take those, it’s a trigger to open the drawer to get the Vitamin C and other things out to take at the same time.”
Large language models like ChatGPT don’t just help in work-related scenarios like writing emails, but can be very helpful in parenting neurodivergent children and making more mundane tasks fun. For instance, for my very creative child who is completely disinterested in eating, I entered the prompt into ChatGPT: ‘My child finds mealtimes boring. They love Pokemon stories. Please write me a series of 1-minute scripts that are exciting stories of Pokemon adventures. Each story should end on a cliffhanger at which point the script should encourage my child to eat a mouthful of food to make the Pokemon save the day’. Bingo. Out came exactly what I needed to make mealtime fun and engaging for my child, and by extension, myself.
A note to those supporting Autistic individuals, routine and repetition is not a behaviour that needs changing, but a really helpful and effective strategy. One of our team members has a 14-day set dinner menu on rotation which is healthy, covers all major food groups and cuts down on the cognitive load of meal planning and writing shopping lists. Another schedules things like yoga and other appointments at the same time every week, so there’s no need to remember ever-changing schedules. Another team member routinely spends some quiet time each evening, checking their calendar for the next day. “Knowing in advance what I have on the following day and having quiet time to process it and make a plan helps me feel a bit more in control of things,” they say.
However, if there is a common theme, it is that harnessing an Autistic person’s authentic behaviours, enabling access to and incorporating their passions, embracing their need for control and routine, empowering them with technologies that make life easier, and assuming they’re doing their best under challenging conditions – will set the scene for a stellar start to 2024.
The Reframing Autism team would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we have the privilege to learn, work, and grow. Whilst we gather on many different parts of this Country, the RA team walk on the land of the Birpai, Awabakal, Wattamattagal, Whadjak, Amangu, Bunurong and Kaurna Yarta peoples.
We are committed to honouring the rich culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this Country, and the diversity and learning opportunities with which they provide us. We extend our gratitude and respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to all Elders past, present, and emerging, for their wisdom, their resilience, and for helping this Country to heal.