What is autistic inertia? - Autism Awareness
What is autistic inertia?

What is autistic inertia?

An autistic person wrote to me and asked what might be the reason they are experiencing difficulty starting a task. This got me thinking about autistic inertia. Quincy Hansen, autistic blogger, defines it as:

the tendency that autistic people have to want to remain in a constant state. When we’re asleep we want to stay asleep, when awake we want to stay awake, when we’re working on one thing we want to keep working on it, when we’re doing one thing we want to keep doing that one thing, etc.

While the general population can experience these feelings as well, autistic people are more apt to be affected by inertia because of executive function challenges.

Another explanation of autistic inertia is difficulty starting or stopping tasks. It can also look like extreme demand avoidance, which may be linked to high levels of anxiety. This can be perceived by others as laziness or a lack of motivation.  It’s important to understand that autistic inertia is a part of neurodiversity and more common that you might think.

What are the common traits of autistic inertia?

There was a study led by an autistic researcher exploring first-hand accounts of autistic inertia. Some of the common traits were:

  • difficulty with transitions because of not being able to start/stop tasks
  • difficulty resuming tasks after an interruption
  • no control over actions even if the desire to do something is there
  • indecision, anxiety, or challenges with planning or starting tasks (also related to executive functioning)
  • not being aware of time
  • difficulty adjusting movements to rapidly changing surroundings
  • separation of the mind and body (this relates to interoception)
  • feeling indifferent about the task urgency or the task itself
  • not feeling motivated
  • being able to focus on a task once it’s started for a long period of time (which is often a strength!)
  • feeling “stuck” – can’t move on to the next thing

How does inertia affect autistic people?

Inertia can affect autistic people in numerous ways. It can:

  • make independent living more challenging
  • influence the way they work
  • cause stress
  • cause fatigue
  • make self-care more difficult
  • impact employment and the ability to work
  • contribute to dysregulation
  • cause social relationship difficulties
  • decrease quality of life

How can we help?

Here are some ideas that can be helpful in supporting an autistic person who is experiencing inertia:

  1. Provide structure. I’ve written numerous posts on how to create structured environments and using visual supports.
  2. Teach the concept of time and time management.
  3. Organize the day around a person’s energy levels. Some people are early risers, others are night owls.
  4. Create To-Do lists and have visual reminders. Visual reminders can be sticky notes, colored cards, or checklists.
  5. Do work tasks in a distraction free area.
  6. Establish routines. Set times for getting up, going to bed, mealtimes, bathing, and exercising.
  7. Do one thing at a time. Multitasking can be overwhelming.
  8. Provide prompts. This can be done verbally, through touch, or providing help with starting off a task.
  9. Break tasks down into manageable steps. 
  10. Create predictability. When a person knows the expectations and how the task will unfold, this will ease anxiety.

Understanding an autistic person’s reasons for experiencing inertia can help us to find the right support strategies, stop blaming the person, and provide an explanation for what we are seeing. This will build trust and confidence for an autistic individual, helping them to move forward.


Asmad, A. The What, Why, and How of Autistic Inertia. Neurodiverging – Coaching and Training for All Brains.

Buckle, K. (2019) Getting Unstuck – Anti-Inertia Strategies. Autscape.

Hansen, Q. (2020, March 24) Task Initiation, Executive Functioning, and Autistic Inertia. Speaking of Autism…

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