Everyday we wake up, brush our teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, and begin our busy day of work. Sometimes our daily routine can flow at a regular pace, with all of our expectations reaching completion, while at other times we can hit a “road block”. An unexpected change may occur (i.e. traffic on the 401, being late for a meeting, not completing a deadline, forgetting your wallet at home, etc.) leading to an unexpected shift within your daily routine. Most of us will simply say, “who cares”, or “just be patient”, but to those individuals on the spectrum…its not that easy.
Let’s just be honest. The concept of change is a challenge for individuals with Autism. Whether it be from staying late at school past 3:30, going to a birthday party or a vacation, working with a new teacher or wearing a brand new jacket, individuals with Autism hate change. Period. The real question is, do we let this resistance to change dominant our lives, or do we do something about it? Working in the field of Autism for almost 9 years, I can honestly say this has been a continuous battle with all of the families I have come into contact with. Whether it is from perseverations to complete meltdowns, most parents are left exhausted and confused, not knowing how to alleviate their children’s daily frustrations with change.
Teaching our children how to accept change within their daily routine can be very difficult, but it’s also very probable. Here are some key steps that can be implemented in any environment to help foster the idea of change.
Originally created by Carol Gray in 1991, social stories is a popular way to help teach a number of concepts to individuals with Autism. From learning various social skills, understanding the difference between appropriate and non-appropriate behaviours to upcoming changes in routine, social stories are short descriptions of a particular situation, event or activity, which include specific information about what to expect in that situation and why.
Just like social stories, priming is another tool that parents and educators can use in any environment to help their children prepare for upcoming activities. The main purpose of priming is to preview activities or information with a child before he or she participates in that specific activity. Furthermore, it also supports the idea of change (I.e. on Tuesday, we are going on a field trip to the zoo).
Priming consists of three components:
- It is conducted prior to an upcoming activity or event. I recommend parents or educators to try implementing this strategy a few days or even weeks before the actual event.
- Priming should consist of clear and easy expectations for the child (I.e. we will sit in the school bus with our class).
- Priming should incorporate frequent opportunities for reinforcement. Always reinforce your child upon positive behaviours to maintain and motivate learning throughout their expectations!!!!!
Since we know that many individuals with autism are more comfortable with routines and things that are familiar to them, the main goal of priming is to help the child become more familiar and comfortable with changes that can occur at school, home, or other settings.
For those who are familiar with the classic definition, upon the presence of positive reinforcement, it will increase the likelihood of positive behaviours occurring again. Therefore every time you see your child following through with their expectations, and are finally grasping the concept of change, always reinforce!!!!! Whether it is from social praise, a favourite toy to receiving a hug, children always successfully learn with positive reinforcement.
Learning to become Flexible:
This is a brand new self-regulation program that we are incorporating with our students here at The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre. This notion works well with students who are on the higher end of the spectrum, and have already mastered the techniques of social stories, visuals, schedules, timers and role-play.
The idea of being flexible is to change your rigid patterns of thinking, and to tolerate that sometimes the things that we do in life can and will change, while others may not. An example of a situation or a “rule” that cannot change is wearing your seatbelt in a car, while a situation that can change is the time we get to school in the morning.
The target responses that we would generally look for are the following:
- The student will learn to identify at least 5 different situations that can change (I.e. when you wake up in the morning, when you eat snack, when you go out for recess, school dismissal and the time you go to bed).
- The student will demonstrate being flexible (I.e. deep breathing, positive self-talk, absence of problematic behavior) for situations that have triggered him or her from being rigid in the past (I.e. eating snack/lunch at a specific time, leaving home from school at a specific time, etc.)
With the use of various materials, visuals, social scripts and role-play, along with consistency, becoming a new “flexible you” can be mastered, along with alleviating feelings of anxiety during unexpected changes in routine.