Autism Rigid Thinking

When we get stuck on an idea


One of the triad of features needed to diagnose us as autistic is “rigid thinking” and or rigid behaviors.

I had to laugh at myself a day ago, I got caught in a classic example of this behavioral pattern. Here is the story and a little more info about rigid thinking as part of our autistic experience.


Every day things can sometimes make me frustrated. I use a brand of toothpaste that has a flip top cap and which is very wide with a small nozzle like opening in the very middle.

Stuff collects between the hinge and the nozzle, when the tube is almost empty I must manipulate the thing with both hands to get a glob of tooth paste to emerge. ( I always use all the tooth paste, my parents taught me to be frugal, so throwing the tube away at that point is not going to happen).

I have spent the last week fighting to get increments of that last tablespoon of stuff onto my toothbrush, and cursing whoever designed that flip top roundly.

I am a compulsive tooth -brusher so this has happened up to 5 or 6 times a day for the past several days.

My husband happened to come into the room yesterday when I was struggling with the tube cap and I complained heartily about the design and the difficulties I was having.
No sympathy there : his response was “why don’t you just unscrew it?”
!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It had never crossed my mind that these flip top tubes were installed as screw on caps.
I was so focused on the design flaw and the struggle I was having I never explored other options. Of course I felt such a fool. Why had I not thought of that?

This sort of thing has happened to me all my life.

My intense focus and intent do not allow me to step back and explore other options. I have been ridiculed and mocked for not understanding things that seem simple and obvious to others.

My autistic rigid thinking does not seem to allow me to see that there are options in the way I address almost everything.

Once I learn a behavior or a thought pattern, it rarely occurs to me to change it. You can understand how limiting this can be. I continue to gain understanding of how profoundly my autism affects all facets of my life.

I had no idea why I have struggled in so many situations, and felt so stupid and humiliated, was shamed and embarrassed when I finally understood what seemed obvious to everybody else all along. But it happened over and over, from the time I was very small until just yesterday, and I am positive I will experience this again and again all the rest of my life.

I remember long ago having a discussion with a friend about how he recognized some of the sick behavior patterns he had developed in his unhealthy home situation as a child and how he was able to understand that and overcome it.
I remember distinctly, thinking that he must be brilliant to do this on his own, that any individual capable of figuring out such a thing and being able to self understand, self motivate, self learn/teach healthier and better ways of life must be a genius.

I had recently finished a year of therapy in which I learned the same things through my counselor, who had to point out that I could make choices in my behavior in the way I did almost everything in my life. I had to be taught healthier communication, and how to recognize my emotions and how to choose healthier ways to behave in almost all of my life situations.

I had not been capable of seeing these options, but had to have them spelled out, explained, and the new means of choosing, communicating, and behaving carefully taught to me.

Not only autistic individuals but others, too, can get caught in rigid thinking, especially if trauma and abuse are involved. Autistic people tend to have a natural inclination toward this behavior pattern due to our neurology.
We are so consistent in applying rigid thought and behaviors to our lives that this is used to sort the autistic individual and identify them. We must have rigid thought and behaviors to be diagnosed today as autistic. (see references to Autism’s pioneer Lorna Wing and the diagnostic triad of behaviors)

Use the internet to learn the many ways rigid thinking can apply to our thoughts and behaviors. Most all of the articles you find will be based on children’s behavior, since there is very little research having been done on older autistic adults, or even younger ones.to date.

As the kids diagnosed in the 1980s and later are in early adulthood there is more interest in learning how autism ages. I hope you are finding the information you need for self understanding as you explore all the ways in which autism works in us even in our very old age. I am 71 as I type this, diagnosed at 68 and discovered my own autism and began to learn about it around age 65. Diagnosis helps so much with self understanding, I will be sorting information and having “aha” moments like the one I described above until I die.


I am so grateful that I finally have the opportunity to heal and understand all those painful “whys” of a lifetime lived before I ever discovered autism was the answer.



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