My son was first diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. The doctor said it was “preliminary” as he was quite young and maybe he would change as he matured. When he was three, that diagnosis was finalized. And since then, due to the various therapies he has been through, my son has been reevaluated and assessed five more times. Each time leading to what we already know – he has autism. When you have a “professional” tell you that for the seventh time, you just sort of laugh. They always say it like it’s something new and unusual, or like you are going to explode at the thought. Nope, no explosions here. Just parents who want to help their kid in the best way we know how.
One of my earliest experiences with therapy was quite a shocker to me and it is the experience that I look to the most when it comes to breaking my son out of his shell. Early Intervention started for my son at 20 months old, but it was at three years old, upon exiting the Early Intervention program, that his therapist said to me,
“Rebecca, you have to rock his world. Schedules and routine are important, but you have to shake it up now and then for him to learn.”
What?! Anyone who knows my kid knows that routine and schedule rule the day. Everything is the same, always.
However, it was because of that therapist’s words that I would like to share with you three ways in which we have learned to deal with change. Because change, no matter how hard you plan out life, always occurs.
Because an average day generally involves a level of sameness, visual schedules are a great way to navigate from one task to another. Visual schedules for us started out as pictures in rows, then moved to pictures around a large clock with a few words, and now they are a series of written instructions. The idea is very simple and one that I was introduced to the minute therapy started for my son. Having a visual schedule takes the guess work out of the day. He knows what is going to happen, in which particular order it will take place, and at what time of the day to expect it. Providing that level of consistency to a child on the autism spectrum can mean the difference between a meltdown and just a little stimming – I’ll take the stimming any day.
Unusual Routine Changes
Sometimes, the daily routine has to get altered. There are things like dental appointments and emergency trips to the store to consider. And sometime people get sick. Life does happen. And this is what our therapist meant when she told me to “rock” my son’s world. While spontaneous life events can, and often will, set off a child with autism, we have found that it is the semi-regular occurrence of such things that keep our son from losing it when a true emergency takes place. Although there is careful planning on our part (the parents) to practice this idea, my son thinks of it as sudden. We will randomly change the direction we drive, the color of his favorite dish, the grocery store we frequent, the restaurant we eat at, the scent of the dining room candle, the style of shoe we buy him, the time of day we run the washing machine, the order in which we do our school subjects (we homeschool), etc… These little changes can be catastrophic in my son’s mind, but by doing them often he has come to understand that change does occur. Yes, he still gets upset and yes, it can make for a very rough day, but when a true emergency arises (as did when we had to rush my husband to the ER not too long ago) we know that he will be able to handle it a lot better than if we had just left it all to chance.
Bigger Life Changes
There are some types of change that can’t really be written into a routine. Sometimes, people move out of state, and other times people die. Navigating these types of change can be tricky with any child, but adding autism to it can make it that much more difficult. We’ve had to deal with both of these changes over the past few years and it hasn’t been easy. Some days, my son wants to talk about what happened and why, other days he acts like there is nothing different and he doesn’t even seem to remember the event that took place. It can be frustrating for a parent to deal with these big life changes, but just keep talking. Even if my son doesn’t seem to be listening, I talk. I talk about his grandparents who moved. I talked about his great grandparents who died. I talk about it a lot. Email and regular letters have made the moving not as hard, but death was tricky. We continue to talk, and always will, because I think an open line of communication, even when it seems to only go one way, is the be way to help get through that.
We live in a very fast paced world. And it’s loud. Always remember that a child with autism is still a child. He or she is learning to navigate this fast, loud, and extremely confusing environment, and it may take a while. What we see as no big deal, is huge in their eyes. What we think is easy, is like climbing Mount Everest in their world. Have compassion for the children and adults who are working through this. Try placing yourself in their shoes for a moment and realize that it just isn’t easy. The best step in positive change starts with increased understanding.
Rebecca Yaghazarian is a Christian, wife,and homeschooling mom of two special needs delights. Find and connect with her on Instagram.
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