Making changes!

This post is for a friend of mine who has the dearest little boy who just happens to be autistic AND he hates change of any sort.

I may irritate a few people with this post, especially the people who advocate keeping.... 

Everything. The. Same. 

We know that children and adults on the spectrum don't like change. We know that there is comfort in rigid patterns. We know that in order to prevent meltdowns it is safer to...

Keep. Everything. The. Same.

We know that it is scary to rock the boat and life is calmer if we... 

Keep. Everything. The. Same.

But, guess what? Life is not static. Life is about change. Life is dynamic. Life is about the unexpected.

I don't think we are doing our children any favours if we...

Keep. Everything. The. Same.

Many years back, Nick was the poster boy for extremely rigid patterns and sheer hatred of change. Tables were cleared with the swipe of an arm. Distressed wails were to be heard if I drove a different route. We relied on visual schedules. If there were chores do be done *outside in the big wide world*, then only one chore was possible, but it was to be done quick sticks, otherwise look out! The list of horrors is too endless to repeat. 

My friend, you say that you don't have a strict schedule at home?  Maybe not, however, I would be willing to bet that your boy has many patterns that you may not be aware of. Let's get real here. We all have our own little schedules. Some of us live by our diaries. Many of us stick to the same old routine of doing.... whatever. BUT, but...... we can adapt to any changes that may occur.  It is not a train smash for us if we are diverted from our original plan. Throw autism into the mix and we have an issue on our hands.

Look at your son's daily routine. What happens with dressing? How is he with breakfast? Does he always sit in the same seat when you drive him to school? Do you drive the same route to school? Does he always have the same lunch box, the same food, the same juice bottle, the same juice? Do you have a regular "bye bye, see you later", pattern? Look at what happens on a daily basis and analysis it. Are the patterns that you see, the same patterns more often than not? 

I really believe that our children are capable of being more adaptable/flexible. The way that we helped Nick to become so receptive to change was to introduce changes to his rigid patterns, slowly and gently, bit by tiny bit. We always made sure to have big fat reassuring smiles on our faces and we kept our voices light and calm. We may have been feeling frustrated/angry/sad etc but never, on any occasion, did we let Nick see this. He needed our reassurance when changes were made and he got it regardless of our own mood.

Whenever a change was being made, we were very mindful of taking Nick to the very edge of his competence and a whisper beyond. 

To give you an example; as mentioned previously, if there was *anything* on the table that didn't belong, then Nick would clear the table. He would get extremely distressed and go into that flight or flight mode. Well, every item would be sent flying onto the floor. Thanks to the guidance from Nick's Speech Therapist, we ensured that we kept the items on the table to a minimum and Nick associated them with what was being done. The tiny change that was made was to place a pen on the table. Needless to say, in the beginning, that pen would go flying... however, over time and with reassurance from us, it became okay to leave the pen there. That pen turned into two pens, then three, then a pen and a book..... I am sure that you get the drift!

The lunch box and all of its items remained the same for years. One day I placed Nick's chips/crisps into a packet and spotlighted the change. A week later, I wrapped the chips/crisps in some greaseproof paper and spotlighted the change. Then I changed the lunch box.......

Nick was stuck on a visual schedule at school and became extremely anxious if we didn't do what was meant to be done. Take away the schedule and he still recalled what was happening *next*. The pattern created was so rigid and so distressing for Nick if not carried out. We started changing this pattern by moving his chair to a slightly different position. If his chair was behind the table, we would place it to the right of the table... and so on and so forth. Eventually we started moving the table to different parts of the room. We then started added tiny variations to the schedule....

Our mantra was *same but different*. This concept comes from Dr Gutstein (RDI). I am not sure if it is still used today, although I think it should be, as it is a goodie! For us, *same but different* meant that we were keeping something the same but adding a small variation... and then another little variation... and then another.

We don't use visual schedules or write up social stories. Transitioning is a non issue. A great example of how flexible Nick has become is an outing that went pear shaped last week.

Our school trip had been planned. The gang were going to the beach front for a walk along the promenade and then they were going to have a picnic on a nice spot of grass overlooking the beach. There were also plans to go and dip a toe in the sea!  Well, the morning started off badly with a bit of rain and loads of ominous looking clouds overhead! Sigh, it looked like the outing was a no no. However, due to some quick thinking (and the discovery of a new playground the previous day) the gang decided to risk the rain and go on the outing BUT change the venue from the beach to the playground. 

The outing was a success (and the rain held off). Nick didn't have a problem with the new plan. He wasn't fazed in the least that he was going somewhere NEW. Good grief, the kid even sat on the roundabout.... a totally new experience.

Dear friend, just do it, try adding tiny variations. You have nothing to lose! Thank you in advance for allowing me to be so bossy!! xx

P.S: I am very aware that I need to do something about Nick's rigid food patterns!!!! ;)


  1. I agree so much. It was one of the first things I did with ours. Change patterns, react unexpectedly. "Daddy can I have some water?" And I would burst into mock tears. :-) Read in Scottish accents. Become the evil vampire. Never constant. The world is after all inconstant, but it was more than that. Every action required him to consider things. Why is dad crying? Why is he a vampire now, when yesterday he wasn't? Lord, it was fun! Now about the food issues.

  2. Hehe, that's a novel way of introducing change! I would be very interested to hear your Scottish accent! Oh brother, the food issues are another story (or should I say blog post!). Thanks for your comment, Hilary.

  3. I find that my son will be rigid about some things for a while, and then he stops thinking about them and then change happens, usually by accident. Food is a problem here, especially when a favourite brand is discontinued!

  4. Hooray for Nick adjusting to the new plan so well!

    I love the idea of the pen on the table. At R's school, her teacher will say "Time to go to the library." They'll head to the library and then her teacher will intentionally stop at the office or take some other detour: "R, we're going here first, then the library." All in an effort to help her cope with change. I'm so thankful.

  5. you are SOOOO inspiring my friend
    I am big on widening the comfort zone as well
    If we don't do that - R's comfort zone gets tighter and smaller

  6. @Looking for Blue Sky ~ that's nice to know that your son stops thinking about rigid patterns and is able to move on. As for the food... I feel your pain! I know your pain!!! :)

    @rhemashope ~ How wonderful that R's teacher is mindful about making detours and spotlighting what is going. Life is much easier when our kids are flexible with change.

    @Floortime Lite Mama ~ Thank you *blush*. Yes, I know all about that comfort zone getting smaller. Good on you for also widening that zone...

    Thank you all for your comments. Apologies for taking so long to reply! :)

  7. I am so thankful the rebel in me started this when Pamela was young. I am not a rigid person and did not want to be boxed in by Pamela's desire for sameness. When she was four, she screamed if we skipped an aisle at the grocery store. So, I would spotlight the upcoming change by saying, "One, two, three, weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" Then, I would push the cart very fast to give her vestibular stimulation because I knew it calmed her.

    Today, she is a very flexible thinker for someone in the autism spectrum.

    1. Hi Walking, I wish that I had realised the importance of flexibility when Nick was young. He was so rigid that he controlled us all. Ah well, better later than never! I really enjoy following Pamela's progress and love that she is so flexible.


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