5 tips for designing a life that works for you

Date: 25th May 2021

Did you know that there are shops which sell products specifically for left-handed people? You can buy all sorts of things … from scissors to knives, peelers, tin openers, garden equipment and a host of other things that might take your fancy.

As the only right-handed person in my family, I get a tiny taste of what “lefties” experience every day. The kettle is always facing the wrong way and don’t get me started on the bread! Thank goodness for the sliced variety – it prevents the inevitable doorstop which results when a “rightie” cuts after a “leftie”.

“Design”, as Steve Jobs said when introducing the original iPhone, “is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

We all have our own unique design which affects how we operate on a day-to-day basis. We gravitate towards things that match our design and steer away from things that don’t.

If you have a talent for music, it’s probable that you found your way into the school choir or band when you were younger. If sport is your thing, then it’s likely that you participated at school and possibly still do.

As adults, we choose careers that play to our strengths. You don’t go for public speaking if you’re prone to stage fright or a desk job if you can’t sit still.

Autistic people, likewise, gravitate towards careers that match their strengths – sometimes leading the way with their extraordinary expertise and capacity for unique thinking. But when it comes to the social world, they often describe themselves as feeling like a square peg in a round hole. It’s here that their design tends to feel out of synch with the neurotypical majority.

For years, the world has been insisting that there is a right way to behave. Autistic people should conform to neurotypical behaviour.

But this mindset implies that there is something wrong with the person’s design. A mindset which the medical deficit model has unfortunately reinforced for decades. An approach which results in autistic people often feeling the need to mask so they can blend in.

Masking comes in different shapes and sizes. It could involve things like, giving eye contact even when it’s uncomfortable, enduring the stress of sensory sensitivities or pretending to be like others to avoid the risk of social rejection.

There is a high personal cost as a result. Autistic people commonly experience stress, exhaustion, and burnout.

So what are the options if your design is at odds with the neurotypical majority?

It’s taken a while but we are beginning to realise that there are tremendous strengths in these differences and we shouldn’t try to change a person’s fundamental design. But acceptance isn’t resignation and it also doesn’t mean that you are doomed to a lifetime of struggle.

I often talk to my clients about designing a lifestyle that works for them. One that is compatible with their unique design.

Taking a proactive role means not comparing oneself to the status quo. It involves knowing yourself and summoning the courage to express your truth in the way that you live.

In addressing this, one should look at all the different environments and people that make up your life. Each person, is of course unique, and individual needs will differ but here are a few ideas to get the juices flowing:

  1. Blended working
  • Some people like the option of working from home for a few days per week. Obviously, this doesn’t suit all job types but if your work can be done remotely it may be for you. And thanks to COVID-19, we’ve now got the hang of it which makes things a bit easier.
  1. Adapted working hours
  • If finances allow, some people opt to work on a part-time basis. Others choose to work longer hours but fewer days. Both these options allow for longer recovery periods between working days.
  1. Sensory Issues  

Sensory sensitivities (for example, to noise, touch, smell, light) can contribute markedly to stress. Adjustments here may involve the following:

  • Cycling or driving to work rather than taking public transport or travelling outside of peak hours when the trains and busses are less busy.
  • Use of noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs to reduce noise exposure.
  • Access to a quiet space at home or at work.
  • Low wattage lighting rather than the fluorescent lights which are often used in offices.
  1. Social Activities
  • Reducing the number of social events you attend or the length of time you spend there.
  • Selecting friends who understand and accept you rather than trying to fit in.
  • Including other autistic people in your friendship circle as this is often where you find kindred spirits.
  • Agreeing the need for downtime with family members (e.g. when you get home from work).
  1. Executive function skills
  • Incorporating the use of planners, diaries, alarms, notebooks, to-do lists and other forms of technology to assist with difficulties in executive function (which includes skills such as, auditory memory, organisation, planning, prioritising, switching tasks, meeting deadlines etc.).

Designing a lifestyle that works for you is a process. It involves giving yourself permission to be you and to do life in a way that suits your temperament. It requires communication about your needs with friends, family, colleagues and employers. It will inevitably involve some compromise especially at home but this is far better than trying to manage the consequences of unmet needs.

I can’t promise that this will be easy. But it will be worthwhile. Not everyone will like or accept you when you have the courage to be your true self but as Maya Angelou once said:

“If you’re always trying to be normal, you’ll never know how amazing you can be”.

To having the heart of a lion!

Linda Philips

MSc. Human Communication



Autism Routemap supports autistic and neurodivergent people with coaching and training to improve communication, people skills and emotional well-being. Interested in knowing how we can help?

Contact linda.philips@autismroutemap.com or book a free Turning Point call here.


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