Life sure isn’t easy. For the regular, non-autistic person, life throws enough things at us to keep us on our toes practically 24/7. Whether it be work, school, family, friends or anything else that requires serious commitment, it’s important to stay on task and focused when doing whatever it is that demands your full attention. The last thing you want is a pesky distraction, just as you’ve started sorting through that large stack of paperwork.

Unfortunately, that experience is much more difficult for an autistic person. As people with highly-active, ever-creative minds, it can be hard for us to remain attentive when our minds wander through various thoughts or to other things around us. This makes it much harder to concentrate on something like an exam when all we can think about is that song we heard on the radio earlier that we just can’t figure out the name of for the life of us.

As you may have guessed, I am very familiar with this scenario. I often struggled in school because my mind would usually switch to other things while teachers were droning on about how to convert fractions to decimals or whatnot. I’d be so disinterested in the topic that my mind would automatically turn to “more important” matters, like what I had for dinner the night before. Then, of course, when it was time to do the task for that lesson, I’d be stuck not knowing or knowing very little about what I had to do or how to do it. I’m just glad I had teacher aides in school, as they helped quite a bit with explaining what I had to do or the bits of the lesson I’d missed or couldn’t quite remember.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of other kids and young adults on the autism spectrum have had the same or similar issues when going through school. Often, in a mainstream school, it can feel a lot like we’re being talked at and expected to follow certain instructions we can’t fully understand, instead of having a more engaged conversation with the teacher about what is to be learned and done, which I think would work better. As someone who was already blind, I had enough problems to deal with in school, but that was just another. It didn’t help that I hadn’t been officially diagnosed yet, so there was no explainable reason as to exactly why this was occurring. People simply put it down to me being blind, thinking that made me less attentive and more distracted, when in actual fact, it was most likely the autism side of things.

Things didn’t work out much better with homework or other school-related activities that required long, uninterrupted attention. As explained earlier, autistic people can have a more active mind than others, so focusing all our energy on one singular task is extremely difficult. Even as I’m doing something like a test, I can still feel the distracting thoughts buzzing around in my head like a swarm of angry bees, trying to take my mind away from what I’m doing.

I find a good way to combat this is to stay on task for a set amount of time, like 10-20 minutes, then have a break for about 5 minutes, get a drink or some fresh air if necessary, then get back to what you were doing. This is a similar technique to how I managed during exams and other tests in high school, modified to accommodate my needs.

Another problem I have, and probably a lot of other people (whether autistic or not) also have, is procrastination, where we can’t find the time to start something we should. I’d say a large part of this is due to distractions, both around us and in our heads. We keep putting things off that we know we have to do because we feel it’s too much effort for us to handle, and we’d rather just stay occupied by watching that new YouTube video we’ve already seen like 5 times. (Come on, we’ve all been there.) As with the rest of this article, I’d say it’s even worse for people with autism, due to the reasons already stated.

Luckily, once I start something, I’m usually able to complete it by staying focused. As they say, the hardest part is getting started. Once I start something, like a report or creative piece, it’s like I’ve turned on a tap, and everything just comes pouring out of me, not stopping until I’m done. Sometimes I’ll take a quick break or two, as I recommended earlier, but if it’s something I am comfortable with and able to do, I rarely have any problems or distractions.

Sometimes I also have to isolate myself to a quiet place, like my bedroom, to ensure I reduce the distraction level to as low as possible. That’s another tip I’d recommend to anyone wondering how to not get easily distracted when trying to complete something important: go somewhere quiet, preferably somewhere it’s just you.

Some other tips I’d recommend to potential teachers or employers of people with autism include:

– talking to them to figure out the best way they can learn/work effectively with minimal distractions

– be understanding and realise that those with autism may have a more active mind than people without

– keep track of how they are performing to see if learning/working methods are progressing well, and if not, change them where necessary

So I’d say if there’s one thing you can take away from this article, it’s this. Distractions for autistic people may be more complex than for other people, but with the right support and strategies in place, they can be minimised to accommodate their needs and make learning and working conditions and environments much easier. If this can be achieved, I feel autistics can have a much fairer opportunity to prove just how creative and mindful we can be.


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