Skip to main content
#EquityIsWorthwhileLearn More

Autistic Lens

Scheduling Tips for Autistic Adults: Tools, planning, and support

February 23rd, 2024

Aly Laube

For Autistic Adults

For many autistic adults, scheduling is one of the tasks that gets shoved to the bottom of the to-do list over and over.   

Struggles with executive function and transitioning from one activity to another contribute to the strain, and having super-reactive senses can also be distracting. After all, when everything feels uncomfortable and you can’t focus properly, it’s hard to pick up the phone or make it out the door. The same is true when you’re diving deep into a special interest. Sometimes, doing or thinking about anything else feels like a chore.  

Communication differences and psychological profiles like demand avoidance can also get in the way of scheduling appointments. For example, what if you’re non-verbal/speaking, and there are no options for you to book a meeting online? It’s just another barrier in the way to getting stuff done to add to what feels like a very long list. For any autistic folks without adequate support, this obstacle could mean the difference between booking that important doctor’s visit and staying at home with unmet care needs 

There’s also money, health, and physical accessibility to consider. Co-occurring conditions are common among autistic adults, who are disproportionately underemployed in BC, according to our recent survey results. A disproportionate 19% of respondents have a physical disability, and an astounding 88% reported having co-occurring conditions.  

To clarify, take my personal trifecta of ailments: Ocular migraines, myotonia congenita, and chronic pain and fatigue.   

While I don’t have to worry about whether there are ramps at the facilities I visit, unlike my partner who uses a wheelchair, I do have to bring sunglasses, earplugs, and energy drinks everywhere I go so I don’t burn out and crash in a random location. I’ve also gone totally non-verbal/speaking after already arriving at an appointment and then had to leave when the professionals I was seeing didn’t have the skills to support me, which later led to a vicious meltdown. Both my partner and I are immunocompromised, so I procrastinate going out as I consider the cost versus the benefit of leaving the house: We could get sick, transportation costs money, and there will probably be accessibility barriers on the way. Plus, being perceived and judged in public at all is exhausting.   

Scheduling also covers making time for sleeping, waking, eating, and doing chores — and then actually spending that time doing what you set out to do. If you stick to the tips below, scheduling will become part of your routine over time, making it easier in the long term. 

You can start by 1) using visual supports, 2) breaking down tasks, 3) making thoughtful plans, and 4) asking for help.  

Sticky notes on a wall.
Credit: Anna Shvets on Pexels.

1) Use Visual Supports 

There are lots of ways visual supports can be helpful. You can try these techniques:  

  • Keep a physical and/or online calendar that allows you to “block off” parts of your day, week, and month and colour-code them according to what kind of activity it is  
  • Set reminders in your phone for the tasks in your calendar  
  • Use “mood boards” that include icons and matching meanings to communicate how you’re feeling when talking is hard 
  • Put up sticky notes reminding you to book or attend appointments 
  • Write down your routines on index cards and refer to them when you’re overwhelmed so you can still perform grounding tasks; an example of a morning routine might be waking up, having a coffee and breakfast, drinking a glass of water, and meditating before starting your day.  
  • Bring pre-prepared statements on printed cards like “I am non-verbal/non-speaking. Please allow me to communicate via X.”  
  • Ask a friend to remind you to book or attend your appointments 

Deciding which techniques to use before your appointment and preparing the necessary materials can make scheduling easier for some autistic folks.  

A chalk drawing of a clock.
Credit: Miguel Á Padriñán on Pexels.

2) Break down tasks 

Break your tasks down into several mini steps if it’s useful.  

To demonstrate, if I want to make an appointment with my family doctor, I’d break it down into these mini steps:   

  • Call the doctor’s office  
  • Make an appointment with the receptionist  
  • Put the appointment in your calendar  
  • Set reminders so you don’t forget the appointment  
  • Double-check the date, place, and time  

Checking off each smaller task gives me a sense of accomplishment and incentive to keep going instead of getting overwhelmed. It also offers more opportunities to take breaks throughout one task rather than pushing yourself too hard to complete it all.  

A page in a planner with a doodle of a sticky note that says "Make it happen!"
Credit: Bich Tran on Pexels.

3) Make thoughtful plans 

You know yourself and your boundaries best. On days when scheduling has felt easy, what happened? Replicate those actions and work them into your plans for scheduling days.   

Plan preparation time before appointments and downtime afterwards to ensure you’re not rushing from one thing to another without an adequate adjustment period. These plans can be referred to in more clinical settings as activity schedules. During my preparation time, I do the following:   

  • Write sentences (sometimes referred to as scripting) or take notes on things I want to say to the person I’m meeting  
  • Go over my transit route  
  • Make sure I have my comfort items  
  • Look at the building on Google Streetview, so I don’t get lost  
  • Do some calming exercises to quell my anxiety   

Afterwards, I try to make time to sleep, cuddle my cat and partner, watch my favourite shows, and engage in special interests. It’s nice to decompress after getting through something that feels like such a big deal.  

Try to stick to your plans to create routines you can rely on, but if it doesn’t happen, don’t beat yourself up too much. That defeats the purpose of getting better at scheduling: It will ultimately help you live a life that’s more aligned with your goals.   

A red corded telephone on a white background.
Credit: Negative Space on Pexels.

4) Ask for help  

Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, a burden, or embarrassing. If setting appointments and scheduling plans outside of work/school just isn’t happening, it’s time to reach out to somebody who can facilitate. If friends and family aren’t well-suited to filling this role, consider contacting disability-focused organizations offering peer support and life coaching. If someone is there to help, you won’t have to get through it alone.  

What are your tips for scheduling as an autistic adult? We want to hear from you!

Skip to content