Routine and change

Most writings on autism state that autistic people do not like change and need routine. Whilst this may be true in most cases, there are always exceptions. In fact a friend ofmine has an undoubtedly autistic son who certainly doesn't seem to show any noticeable difference in his behaviour regardless of where he is taken, how his routine is disrupted or how his environment changes. However he is non verbal and most definitely has the triad of impairments. As I have stated so many times, autism presents as uniquely in each individual as their own particular fingerprint.

In my family I do have children who do not like change (until it suits them) especially if they are not prepared for it. If Ben is told both with words and pictures what is going to happen next, even down to switching the vacuum cleaner on, then he will grudgingly deal with it (by scuttling off with his fingers in his ears and muttering, "I hate noise") rather than having a major meltdown. Schedules and routines are major stress relievers, giving predictability and preparation for change - but only if they include some pleasurable activity and a reward for those not so pleasant. If a child's written or pictorial routine consists of a series of events, all of which the child either dislikes or is scared of, then they are unlikely to respond in a positive way regardless of whether or not they understand. Can you imagine having a series of unpleasant or possibly frightening tasks listed on your wall as a constant reminder of what you have to endure all day? Most of us would feel like screaming, kicking and running off too!

Ben, like many autistic people, has difficulties understanding his environment and seems to be unaware of the fact that when he is away at school, life carries on at home. To Ben, life literally freeze-frames in his mind and unfortunately for the rest of us, that means that nothing whatsoever can have changed when he comes home or it causes him immense distress. Just before Ben goes out of the front door to be placed on the bus, it is almost as if he takes a mental snapshot of each room and woe betide us all if anything has changed at all! The PlayStation has to be in the exact position, the computer on the exact same website, any bits of paper or clothes strewn around the floor have got to be in exactly the same place (hardly a problem). If after a quick scan around the room his lordship is satisfied, then he continues to perform the next one of his routines. First his clothes are stripped off, and then he places himselfin his special chair and has a bowl ofcereal. If he has come in from school at tea time and tea is ready, he still needs to sit in his highchair and eat a bowl of cereal first or all hell breaks loose.

Ben insists on the same circle yellow dummies (three of them), the same bowl, the same spoon.. .the list is endless. These are only some of Ben's routines, some are long lasting and some change from week to week.

I am sure many parents reading this will have similar routines and rituals that their child imposes on them and maybe you too feel like you are living with a little Hitler?! Whilst I endeavour to keep the peace and prevent Ben from claiming a total dictatorship, some things I merely have to comply with for the sake of all of our sanity (and our ear drums). These rituals bring comfort, familiarity and predictability to a confusing world and whilst I have been told (by well meaning family and friends) not to give in to him or to stop spoiling him, those of you with children like Ben will know only too well what futile words they are! These things need dealing with gradually and carefully as they are the crutches that help our children make sense of the world.

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