We all have our own little routines and familiar patterns that we feel uncomfortable deviating from. I have this compulsive need to floss my teeth each night before brushing my teeth. Miss a night and I feel a little uneasy and am forever moving my tongue around my mouth, feeling for bits that may be caught between my teeth. (Sorry, too much info!). This is standard stuff and let's face it if I miss a night it is not the end of the world. I may feel a little antsy, however, I can shrug it off and say "oh well, I will floss tomorrow morning!"
Throw autism into the mix and it is another story. For years my son could not and would not tolerate any changes in his life, whether it be change of routine, type of food or even driving down an unfamiliar road. I was extremely fixated on keeping the peace; and keeping everything the same in order to prevent my boy from becoming terribly distressed. I didn't like to see my son unhappy and totally out of control of his emotions and unable to regulate himself. It was depressing and absolutely heartbreaking. It was terrible to live in this state, continuously tiptoeing on eggshells to avoid drama.
As time moved on, I learned that it was possible to move on from this way of life. I discovered that I could help my child to overcome his high anxiety and his need for sameness. And, I went with it because the alternative was to stay at home with my son and only have two safe places, home and school with nothing in between. That is not a life. I didn't want to become reclusive and I certainly didn't want my son to remain fixed in his patterns and unable to move forward. I wanted our family to have a regular life as much as possible.
I started introducing changes to my son's routine. I am not talking heavy duty changes. I am talking about the little variations that would be a *tiny* challenge for him. I am talking about putting a pen on the edge of a table and saying to him. "I am just going to leave it there for 5 seconds, it will be fine". During those five seconds I would be giving him reassuring smiles, knowing all the time that he wanted to clear that table because NOTHING was allowed on the table. Five seconds. That is all.
More little changes like;
Adding a tiny piece of carrot to his Spaghetti Bolognaise sauce. "Oh wow, I see some carrot" (it took a good six months before he would eat the carrot, however, he was comfortable with it being there!)
Driving down the wrong road, "Oops, silly me, I have driven the wrong way... but it will be fine"
Getting him familiar with going to ONE coffee shop. Then introducing another coffee shop.
Cutting his toast in different ways and spotlighting the change.
Wrapping his school snack in paper one day, tin foil the next ~ and spotlighting the difference.
Moving his chair to a different place. Sitting next to him. Sitting opposite him, so on and so forth.
I could go on and on.....
These days I have a flexible child who adapts to change very easily and the word 'transition' doesn't enter our vocabulary. He no longer needs a visual schedule and is perfectly fine if I change my plans at a whim. This afternoon, my husband arrived home to pick me up as we needed to collect my car that had been in the garage for the day. Nick was playing on the computer, however, when I called to him "let's go, we going out!" he shut down the computer and came to join us. When we arrived at the garage, it wasn't possible for him to stay in his Dad's car so he came into the showroom with us and waited patiently while everything was sorted out. He showed NO signs of stress over the fact that he was in a brand new place and everything was unfamiliar (except for his old Mum and Dad!). He did not ask for "car". He did not ask for computer, iPad or anything else that he uses to escape. He was a regular kid, out doing chores with his folks. Absolutely brilliant stuff.
I know that we have a long way to go. Food issues are still a problem, however, he has made some lovely 'healthy' progress of late. He is also uncomfortable when in the company of a lot of people, although he is happy to go visiting with us and will quickly make himself at home wherever we go. The iPad helps tremendously in situations like this.
Gone are the days that we had to stay at home. Gone are the days when we had to make arrangements to leave him at home while we went out and about. These days he comes with us and we are no longer a family divided. Of course we make accommodations for him, we also do the same for his brother. Our life may not be the same as Mr and Mrs Joe Soap with their regular 2.5 children who live down the road, however, this is our life and we are making the most of it.
Little changes have made our boy more flexible and comfortable with trying new experiences. The little changes are paving the way towards bigger challenges. Slowly and surely, step by little step, we will guide him forward. Watch this space!
Now, where did I put that dental floss?
Di is the very proud Mum of two teenage boys, one of which who just happens to be autistic. You can find her over at The Bright Side of Life.