I wanted to discussion the relationship between spoon theory and what I consider battery theory in regards to autism, since I have found the both of them so useful as metaphors to explain energy and ability to do things on a day to day basis.
The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino can be found Here in .pdf format
To summarize it briefly: each day we are given a number of spoons which we use throughout the day to "pay" to do things. For a lot of people, they get a near unlimited number of spoons, but for someone who is sick or disabled, the number of spoons can be limited and even changes from day to day. Also, the "cost" of things may also change. One day, getting dressed may cost one spoon, another day, it may cost two spoons. One day, leaving the house may cost two spoons, another day, it costs five. These are just examples to illustrate spoon theory. Often I have found others who use spoon theory to illustrate their well-being.
For example "this morning, I seem to be short on spoons" or "today I have enough spoons" or "I don't think I have enough spoons to do that"
My Battery Theory works kind of like Spoon Theory, except that it has to do with
energy in general and being able to do things (use spoons). A lot of the time I specifically use it to show how much social interaction I can handle. For me, even a little social contact, like someone walking by, drains my battery. Sometimes one person drains the battery more than three people. On a good day, the drain is slow and paced, on a bad day, the drain is fast and uneven.
I describe the energy levels in my battery with colour levels. In each colour level, there is an "early" and "late" stage, meaning, how long I've been in each colour. The longer, or "later" I'm in a colour, the harder it is to recharge. I have four colours, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red.
Green: I'm good, I'm refreshed and at my peak. At this level, I can do pretty much anything. In this stage, I'm good to test my boundaries and sensory input, and can put up with a lot.
Yellow: I'm a bit tired, but I'm holding in there. At this level, it's fairly easy to take short breaks and get back into Green. This is a pretty safe tired level. However, it has taken me a long time to recognize myself at this level and being able to differentiate it from the other tired levels.
Orange: I'm pretty tired. Still hanging in, but I'm starting to be more likely to make mistakes, loose skills, and be very intolerant of sensory issues. I can handle things, just not as good as I usually can, might get whiny, more intolerant. Withdrawal, time out, or as I call it "lone time", is highly recommended at this point. It takes about an hour or so to get back to Green or an early Yellow and I try not to get any more drained than a late Orange on a regular basis.
Red: This is the danger level. If I'm in public, and I say/type/write that I'm at red, it means that I'm running on low or emergency energy, and once I get to a safe, private location, I'm going to crash. At this stage, withdrawal isn't just highly recommended at this level; it's essential. This is the level where there is a high risk of burn out, meltdowns and overload. Actually, it's not even a risk, it's a guarantee.
In an early Red, I can actually mimic "functioning" or green. However, at both early and late, it can take an entire day for get myself back to Green. And that's if it's uninterrupted. When I've reached Red, it's harder for me to recharge, and so any interruptions, whether it'll be talking, notes for me to read, just tends to drain. Actually, I think in a Red, the only form of communication I can handle is online, and sometimes not even that.
On a good day, it takes me six hours for me to reach Red, after which there's really no way for me to socialize. Sometimes upon reaching Red, I'll just shut down, either really quickly or slowly, but there are times where I pull in emergency stores and actually appear to be functioning or in a higher level. But it's a survival and emergency stores, and is basically me "borrowing" spoons from future days, and results in my needing to recharge more frequently in the following days to recover.
For an example, I went to an international symposium as an autistic artist to display my work in the gallery. I also brought along a friend who was interested in attending some of the panels. Being low on cash, I arranged to stay with a friend who lived in city limits and planned to use the commuters train to get to the symposium location each day. This required us to wake up very early in the morning to catch a bus to take us to the train station, where we catch the right train to take us into the city. Since we didn't get back to our lodgings till late, we got about 3 hours of sleep each night. My friend ended up sleeping under the display tables, and since we had to have someone at our table all the time (for security), I ended up manning the table with little to no breaks each day. For three days.
I did it. I was extremely tired the entire time and I know my skills across the board suffered, but I did it.
Until I got home; then I crashed and had to take an entire week to recover.
Part of the length of recovery was due to the fact that I was also in school at the time, but it was also that I had been running on emergency supplies for longer than I should. As my roommates will concur, I didn't really operate at my usual levels that week, even almost became violent during a minor disagreement.
Now, this is not to say that this is how it works for each autistic person. I understand that each autistic has different limitations, boundaries and tolerances. Things are different for each of us.
However, I offer this as a way to explain a part of what it is like for me to be autistic, just as Christine used her Spoon Theory to explain living with Lupus. If it seems to fit by way of an explanation, both to other autistic and parents/caregivers of autistic people, then it is a good way to explain.