Spoon Theory for Autistics: What it is and Why it Matters

I discovered spoon theory a few months ago on Instagram and it made no sense to me. What’s all this talk of spoons?

But it seemed like everyone on social media and autism vlogs were talking about not “having enough spoons” for something. So I figured it was worth a second look. And I think it’s changing my life.

spoon theory for autistics

Where did the spoon theory come from?

Spoon theory was originally created to explain chronic pain and illness by Christine Miserandino in 2003. She was talking to a friend about her experience with lupus.

Her friend wanted to understand how Christine felt in a given day. Christine explained it by creating the spoon theory.

What is the spoon theory?

Christine helped her friend understand her feelings this way: she took 12 spoons and gave them to her friend. She then asked the friend to explain their normal day.

For every activity the friend mentioned, Christine took away a spoon. As you could imagine, those with chronic illness run out of spoons a lot quicker than others.

Christine explained that while you could exceed your daily allotment of spoons, you would be stealing them from the next day.

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In other words, you won’t have enough energy or ability to do everything you need to do tomorrow if you do too much today.

Why is this important? It highlights the need to “ration” your energy. You need to decide what’s important and what isn’t. What can wait until tomorrow, and what needs to happen right now.

You also need to decide if you’re willing to go over your daily limit.

How does the spoon theory apply to autism?

Because life is hard as an autistic in a neurotypical world!

As autistics, we aren’t chronically ill. Most of us don’t live with constant physical pain. But this world is predominantly neurotypical and it’s just not built for us.

Because of this, we find it very exhausting to live in it. There are many things that are much harder for us than for neurotypicals.

We can become very tired from social events, work or school projects, or even a difficult meal that has the wrong sensory input.

So spoon theory can be very useful for us!

The different kinds of spoons

Yes! We have different kinds of spoons. As Erin Clemens brings out on the Mighty, we have physical, mental, and emotional spoons.

What does this mean? We can become exhausted from just watching someone else do something that we find stressful.

 

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For example, when I’m having a hard day, all it takes is for me to walk into the kitchen and see the dirty dishes. I will start breathing heavy and even crying. This can completely drain me and I have to go back to bed.

So somedays we may feel great physically but emotionally exhausted, or vice versa. We may not have the mental capacity to work or study, but we may be able to offer great advice to a friend in need.

How do I use spoon theory?

Personally, I think your daily spoon amount can change throughout life; with you either gaining or losing some of your daily amounts.

Being an undiagnosed autistic for 18 years, I think I’ve been running my “spoon bank” dry for a long time. So, I’m a little bankrupt at the moment ๐Ÿ˜‚.

But I believe that after some time of learning more about myself and how to take care of myself, I may have more daily spoons.

Spoon theory is basically recognizing your limits and working within them. This isn’t resigning yourself, it’s accepting what you can do right now.

And that isย so important. You’ll get more out of life and you’ll feel better. You’ll actually be able to accomplish more because it forces you to prioritize; and not exhaust yourself.

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So how many spoons does any given thing take? I also think this is different for every person.

Some people may find that taking a shower costs them 3 spoons, while others may feel like it costs a lot more, or that it actually gives them some spoons back.

(From what I found, Christine didn’t say anything about getting spoons back, but I do think this is possible with certain conditions, for certain people.)

As you might imagine, I believe that it’s important for every person to make their own spoon chart. I’m still working on mine as this is a new idea for me.

How many spoons should I have?

As I figure out my chart, I’ll come back and update the post with my daily spoons and how I use them.

From what I’ve found online though, people tend to have 12-2o some daily spoons. Of course, this can be different for every person.

Don’t feel like you should have more spoons. The whole idea is that this is a very personal thing, it has to work for you.

At different points in your life, you may have more energy and thus more spoons. But sometimes you may have less and that’s okay too. The number of spoons you have every day can change as well, as I said earlier.

As AutisticMama puts it:

If we had a meltdown yesterday, or we didnโ€™t sleep well? We wake up with less spoons than normal.

The whole idea behind this method is to take care of yourself and make the best of your situation.

What things steal spoons?

Sadly, the answer is lots of things. These can also be different for everyone, but there are also a lot of common ones too.

Here are a few:

  • Social events
  • Cooking
  • Showering
  • Getting out of bed
  • Watching an emotional show
  • Listening to sad or angry music
  • Arguing on Facebook
  • Watching other people argue

As MusingsofanAspie says, there can be things that unexpectedly steal your spoons. They talk about “leaking spoons;” how things that we aren’t in control of can drain us – like the sounds of renovations next door.

How do I get back/conserve spoons?

Like I said earlier, I think that there may be some ways to get back some spoons, different for each person.

For example, let’s say that I have a social event to go to tonight. I have to stay for three hours, let’s say that it will take five spoons (just surmising, I haven’t figured out my numbers yet).

This will also take a few kinds of spoons, as it may be physically tiring and I’ll have to exert myself emotionally and mentally to talk to people.

I have to plan ahead. I can’t do my normal day because I won’t have the spoons left for the social thing.

If I have a social event, like a party, to go to, here’s what my day might look like: I get up, shower, eat breakfast while I watch a little relaxing tv.

Then, I go back to bed. I’m always tired, so having a nap isn’t difficult ๐Ÿ˜‚. These ‘naps’ are very important to me. When I’m overtired, I find it extremely difficult to control my emotions and I am also just very sleepy haha. There’s no shame in sleeping when you need to!

I’ll get up again around 2 ish maybe and have some lunch. Then I’ll take it slow as I get ready. I’ll take that time to do something simple with my hair, basic makeup, and pick out something to wear and get dressed.

This may not sound like a very busy day. But because of my anxiety, just picking out something to wear and choosing between gold or bronze eyeshadow can stress me out a lot and take a long time.

I also believe that I’m going through burnout right now, so this may become easier in the future.

I still find it difficult, but by slowing down and taking (lots) downtime, I’m able to go.

But because of my energy right now, even this type of day might still exceed my daily spoons.

That means that the next day, I am also in bed late, have a late breakfast and likely go back to bed and have a slow afternoon.

So what activities might help conserve or even recover spoons?

These will be different for everyone, but basically they are things that help to recharge you, that you enjoy doing, and that relaxes you.

Here are some ideas:

  • Drawing
  • Playing/learning an instrument (but not if you find it frustrating)
  • Listening to the right kind of music (happy and relaxing)
  • Crocheting or knitting
  • Watching a favorite tv program or movie (that won’t stress you out)
  • Time with a furry friend
  • A favorite stim
  • Talking to a close friend
  • Reading a good book
  • Time in a sensory room
  • Sleeping. Lots of sleeping

As I said, these are different for everyone. Some of these might work for you, some might make things worse. You just have to figure out what works for you.

Something that really helps me is doing a bunch of these. I’ll have a nap and then listen to some happy or upbeat music while I draw and talk to my mom. She’s great at listening to me rant about stuff. It really helps to just get everything off my chest.

Make sure to log your feelings and what you did to impact that feeling. This will help you to see patterns and feel better.

I’ve started using a new app called Daylio (not sponsored lol) to do this and I really like it. The free version is all I need, at least right now. I can log my emotions and the activities I did to lead up to that.

You can customize your emotions and activities so it suits you. Then you can see trends and it can really help to make life easier.

So, are you going to be a spoonie? ๐Ÿฅ„๐Ÿ˜‰

spoon theory and autism

That’s all I’ve got

I hope this helped you to understand spoon theory, it helped me to write it!

Let me know if you have any questions or if you have something to add in the comments. I really love reading your comments ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ’•

Love from the autsiverse!

About the author: Hello, Iโ€™m Drew! Welcome to my website. Here Iโ€™ll cover tons of helpful info about what itโ€™s like to be an adult on the autism spectrum, and how thatโ€™s different for women.

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