Children with autism spectrum disorders often cling to order as a way to make sense of their confusing world. Order is a friend, change is the enemy.
As I have worked with my son over the years I have learned that having a set routine is very helpful to him. As much as possible, we try to stick with the same basic set of events each day: meals, school work, outside time and quiet time all in a certain order. Knowing what to expect enables my son to feel secure and to handle his personal issues better (sensory integration, etc.)
Change is inevitable, however, and how we handle that change makes the difference in a good day and a bad day.
The first line of defense is always communication. If I know ahead of time that we have a change in the schedule coming up and I can let my son know, he can make a smoother transition. There are times when plans change suddenly and during those times I have to talk my son through what is going on at the time.
During changes in the routine, an autistic child can easily become overwhelmed. The autistic child doesn’t know how to handle strong emotions well and can often end up in a full-blown tantrum.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to stay calm during an outburst. My anger/irritation/frustration only pours fuel on the fire. If I can remain calm, then I can help my child to remain calm. This is one of my top priorities, yet one of the areas I often fail in during high-stress events.
Teach Coping Skills
While it is important to help my child to calm down, it is more important to teach my child to transition from this external control (my calming him) to internal control (self-control). I want my child to be able to calm himself when he is upset because he is an individual and is responsible for his own responses to life. He is the one who will get fired if he has an outburst toward his boss!
This transition to internal control takes more time in children with autism. We have to teach explicitly what other children learn implicitly from watching others. This means that I have to talk my son through what to do: “Okay, sit down. Take a deep breath. Calm your heart rate down.”
It is encouraging that my son has become more flexible as he has matured, but there are days when I feel that we still have a long way to go. I just try to remember that my son is a gift from God to teach me to love better and when we have a bad day, we just get up the next day and try again.