Autism and Learning How Make Decisions from Two or More Options

Although there’s not much research on the subject, making decisions can be incredibly tough for people who are autistic/Aspies.  I certainly struggle to make decisions.  I am fortunate to work at a special needs college, where a large number of students are autistic/Aspies.  Most of these students find it hard to make decisions too.

From my experience of working with autistic/Aspergers students, nearly all of them take longer to make a decision than the other students.  The time does vary though.  Even when making the most basic decisions, some autistic students can take a couple of minutes; whereas a few can take up to half an hour.  Surprisingly the majority, who find decision making the most problematic, are at the higher end of the spectrum.

I am high functioning autistic and find decision making to be very tricky at times.  I can make some decisions quickly by methods such as: using rules, copying others, or remembering choices from the past and sticking to them.  But other decision take me a very long time.  Some are so difficult, I don’t think I am even capable of making them at all.

Examples of My Decision Making Difficulties

Making decisions affects so many aspects of my life.  Even replying to a simple greeting can be tough.  Such as when a colleague asks if I’m alright.  Instead of giving a simple reply such as ‘I’m good thanks’, I will often have to think about how to respond first.

One type of decision, that takes up many hours each week, is simply deciding what food to eat.  At the weekend I plan out the family’s evening meals, for the full following week.  This can take me a couple of hours.  Then I spend another hour, or more, writing the shopping list.  I could have the same meals each week, to make process easier.  But my wife and children would not like the repetitiveness.

Even with the evening meals planned, I often have trouble deciding what to have for breakfast and lunch each day.  Making sure it does not clash with my evening meal.  Such as not having bread/pasta three times a day.

I’m not the type of person who can just go to the shops, and choose things to buy whilst I’m there.  That would be far too strenuous for me.  I have to carefully think about what I want to buy, at home, before I leave.  The internet is amazing for this.  I can check out reviews, quite often see if an item is in stock and even look at prices and offers in supermarkets.  If I try to make a decision in a shop, I can spend at least 15 minutes in each aisle staring at similar products.  Usually trying to weight up quality over price, or what flavour I want.

When I make a big purchasing decision, such as going on holiday or buying something expensive, I will always read a vast amount of reviews on the internet.  Trawling through all these reviews takes many hours.  But it’s usually worth it, as I tend to make the right decision eventually.

Before online reviews where big, I used to rely on chance.  I made many mistakes this way.  I stayed in plenty of horrible hotels and caravans.  I also bought things that seemed to be good, but were not worth the money.

Sometimes a lot of the research goes to waste.  Once we saved for almost a year to have a nice holiday abroad, but in the end we decided to spend the money on the house instead.  I spent countless hours researching different destinations, hotels, water parks and theme parks.  Then discussed the findings with my wife and eldest son.  So we could come to a joint decision on the best holiday.  But it was wasted effort, on that occasion.

How to Make Decisions Easier

Struggling to make decision can cause anxiety, tiredness and irritability.  Especially in relation to change of routine.  There are many default strategies that autistics/Aspies use when it comes to making a difficult decision.  This could be to avoid making the decision, or always choosing the same option.

Over the years I have found ways I can make decisions easier.  Without these strategies I wouldn’t be able to lead a normal life.  As most of my time would be spent trying to make the right choices.

Things that help me are:

  • Having a large number of rules, such as:
    • Not going shopping without a list
    • Waking up at least an hour before leaving the house (e.g. to go to work)
    • Working out family finances, at least six months in advance
    • If I have been given a choice with that requires a yes or no answer, I will initially respond with no. Unless I am confident that yes is the right choice for me.
  • Reading product reviews, for future purchases. Which reduces the chance of disappointment (e.g. if it breaks or doesn’t meet expectations). That being said, I spend far too many hours doing this.
  • Prepare as many things as possible in advance. To save having to make a decision later. Which includes:
    • Washing, drying and ironing all of my clothes for work, at least the week before I need them. Sometimes I have two weeks’ worth of clothes ready in my wardrobe.
    • Deciding the clothes I’ll wear each day of the week, the weekend before.
    • Making lunch the day before work.
    • Making and using check lists (e.g. for holiday packing).
    • Deciding meals one week in advance.
    • Reading reviews before visiting places. For key information such as where to park, how much it costs and what food outlet is available nearby (if required).
  • Ask my wife for help and advice. Which I do on a daily basis.
  • If it’s a big decision, I will always write down the pros and cons of each option and research as much as possible.
  • I have just started to toss a coin on decisions where I need to choose between two things, and I can’t decide.  This has worked out well for me so far.

4 thoughts on “Autism and Learning How Make Decisions from Two or More Options

  • May 8, 2019 at 6:36 am

    I had to comment as I relate so so bad, whilst I’m not diagnosed me and my wife are almost certain I’m autistic and having 3 autistic children only helps to prove that to me, what I will say is be careful with the coin, I’ve spent the last ten years flicking a coin hundreds of times a day, it’s completely took over my life and I’m incapable of almost any decisions without it

    • May 8, 2019 at 6:45 pm

      Thanks for the advice about over using the coin trick. I try to use it for the smaller decisions that I struggle on. Probably once every couple of weeks. But I can see how this could gradually build up more and more.

      • October 12, 2019 at 5:06 pm

        May I ask a question? How does decision making work with bigger issues in life like marriage, theism verses atheism and the like?


        • October 12, 2019 at 8:41 pm

          The big decisions in life for me are sometimes very easy (like getting married) but other times incredibly hard (like what I’d like to do as a career). For the harder decisions I try to make small changes or gradual progress until I can figure it all out.

          There are times when I can’t come to a decision one way or the other, like religion, but I can personally live with the indecision in that respect.

          I am hoping to do another blog post on decision making soon, so this will hopefully give more insight into this topic 🙂


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