How we approach reducing meltdowns with a variation budget.

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Today on twitter someone was asking about how to reduce anxiety field meltdowns. I tried to explain our approach via twitter but it didn’t work very well. So here’s the same concepts as a blog post.

Baseline all the things.

The basic idea is that I live on a very tight variation budget.

I have let’s say 100 ‘variation’ points per day till my body will react. My body is not disordered, I simply need more structure and predictability than most people.

If I spend 80 of those variation points on my day to day life, then I only have 20 variation points left for new things. If something new (even something I like or want to do!) is using 25 points it’s going to push me into meltdown.

If I change my day to day life to be more consistent and predictable then I have more variation points to use for new things.

For example, if my day to day usage was only 60 variation points, then I could do a 25 point task without a meltdown.

We tend to focus on the cause of change (the task) because that’s the big thing. However as that’s unpredictable and not reproducible it’s extremely hard to change it to use less variation points.

Focusing on day to day life is easier. As it’s repeated daily it’s easier to experiment and easier to build something sustainable.

For me this means I keep to a strong routine. Awareness I am living on a variation budget enables me to spend the budget where it is most beneficial for me to do so.

For example i eat the same food everyday. I prefer it that way as that then saves my variation budget for things I enjoy more like seeing my friends or doing different activities.

Importantly I describe my routine as strong not rigid.

Rigid is one of those judgement terms which sneaks into autism stuff. A bit like how many people say ‘over sensitive’ when they just mean ‘very sensitive’. This sort judgement language is not useful because it changes the tone of the discussion without understanding the reasons why we may do something. Anyway I digrees…

I am not rigid, I just live on a much tighter variation budget than most other people do so I have to be much more careful.

For example, if I have a budget of 100 Variation points and I overspend by 10 that could ruin my day. If someone else has a budget of 1000 and they overspend by 10 It probably won’t matter.

This approach works extremely well for me. I hold down a job and take part in activities. This wasn’t possible until I started to think in a more ‘budget’ like way.

At the end of the day I don’t care about varying my food. I’d rather use that variation budget in other ways.


Spaced Out & Smiling is about exploring the fun side of Autism, and trying to understand what it means to be Autistically Happy.

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