Article by Lydia Wilkins
If ever there was a book I would love to read, it would be ‘The Autistics Guide To Moving Out And Living Alone’. And, I suspect, it is not just me who would want to read that book, too. Growing up, I was always very aware of money, and am a member of a generation who have witnessed nothing but crisis after crisis. Be it the Credit Crunch or Austerity, it was impossible to avoid feeling anxious about the cost of living — such as heating, water use, and more. It was also heavily emphasised at times to use something as much as possible, for as long as possible — one teacher even predicted a future where we would have to provide our own exercise books.
That’s not to say I had an awful childhood, far from it; I was just hyper aware of the cost of living, and tried to reconcile myself with this day to day.
For a long time it was this — as well as the lack of any support for my ASD at a substantial level (hello, Department of Work and Pensions!) — that made me nervous about living by myself.
A week into living by myself, this is a summary of what I have learnt so far. These are small lessons and may not apply to everyone.
The Covid 19 restrictions
This pandemic has impacted us all — but some demographics have been impacted more so than most, and I would argue Autistic individuals have been at the forefront. You can find out more information about this from Left Stranded, a report by the National Autistic Society. Keep the restrictions in mind — and make sure you follow them. You will feel a lot better about it, especially if there was a previous occupant. It also doesn’t hurt to wipe down all surfaces, too.
Keep a list of everything
People often ask me what it is like to be on the Autistic spectrum — and, pandemic metaphors aside, the best way I can describe it is: it is like my brain just will not shut off at night. Someone also recently pointed out to me that Autistic people have a higher rate of neuropathways forming — and they seemed to suggest that may be the explanation. However, I am not sure if this is entirely accurate. I always have so many questions, thoughts, queries — as well as words repeating themselves as a kind of audio ‘stim’. (Have you seen the Netflix show Atypical? The scene of the word ‘twat’ being repeated a lot is an example of this when verbalised.)
So, keep a list of everything. Plan the move down to every last detail. Make a list of bills to set up and pay, where your things will go, associated fees (like if you are renting), things to buy, supplies, etc. This took away so much of my anxious feelings around moving, as well as a lot of worry.
Better still — have a ‘house planner’
A ‘house planner’ is just one single notebook where everything about the place you now live and run will go. This is where you should store information about your gas and electric providers, for example, as well as passwords. It is also where I have information regarding finances — how much I have to earn as a strict base line and to ‘level up’, information about my bank and more. This should be the one stop shop for everything. And stick to your house planner like glue.
Have a plan and stick to it
When it comes to physically moving your possessions from one location to another, I always hated it as a child. Things would go missing or would be left behind, everything was outside of its designated place, there would be some things that would arrive late — and people would touch your things that would have to then be re-organised all over again! So much fuss. And no, it is not me just being a snob — I know of many Autistic individuals who hate their things being touched, because of the feeling of displacement. So, plan it. Have a specific plan and stick to it. Have timings, tasks, and physical transfers.
Bills, Bills, Bills
As a freelancer one of my main worries is cash — and generating enough to keep a roof over my head. Industry practices are often the reason for this; I would file and earn more than enough, but payment would so often be incredibly delayed. It is a mockery of independence.
It is worth shopping round bill providers dependent on what you need; some companies have an ongoing set up which is not on a contracted basis, where you will pay a set amount. Knowing that made me feel a lot better, because the thought of a hefty bill made me feel sick inside. Sometimes there are discounts available, too — my gas and electric has an option for ‘vulnerable customers’. Now, I hate the word ‘vulnerable’ — it can be incredibly patronising — but I am eligible, thanks to the Equality Act, for money off. The same goes for Council Tax; single? There’s money off.
When it comes to meals, use your sensory needs to your advantage. I have two pots of the same yogurt each morning, which costs maybe £1 every day. I rarely if ever have anything else — and make up for this later with health variations for my dinner. My diet is healthy, but having a restricted diet can be a wonderful thing if you need to budget. Oh, and plants can be grown cheaply for a source of food, too. I have a teeny window herb garden which often tops my lunch.
Candles make anything homey
Largely inexpensive, candles are a great investment — and will make it feel less weird if this is your first time outside the family home.
Special interest this S*** up
Autistic individuals often have special interests; mine is the His Dark Materials, which I adore. Spread liberally around — be it through new polar bear bedding, Etsy jewellery, whatever. This is your new home, so make it yours.
Lydia Wilkins is a freelance journalist covering disability and lifestyle. She also runs a weekly newsletter to support other freelance disabled creatives. You can find Lydia on Twitter — @Journo_Lydia and on Instagram — @Journo_Lydia