As an individual with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I like structure and predictability. I enjoy knowing what is going to happen, first, next, and last. Not only do I like knowing what is going to happen, I also tend to want to know exactly when they are going to happen. Sometimes my need for structure and predictability can be hard to meet because the world we live in is unpredictable. The world we live in requires that I can cope with change.
Change is often hard for many individuals with ASD and other isms to accept and handle. Change is something that can not be avoided. Change happens, it is simply a part of everyday life.
Since change can not be avoided, one must teach an individual who struggles with change how to best cope with change that may make them feel anxious or uncomfortable.
Response to Change
Remember, changes that seem small and meaningless to one person, especially a person without isms, may seem huge to a person who has isms. As a direct result of this, a neurotypical’s (NT’s) reaction and a person with isms’ reaction to change will likely be very different from each other.
Something as small as the need to have Cheerios for breakfast instead of the Fruit Loops that they normally eat everyday could be something that could cause the individual with isms to be thrown off for the rest of the day. Even though the change is small, the person with isms may react in a big way, such as crying, complaining, or even having a meltdown demonstrating a struggle with the ability to cope with change.
Cope with Change
Helping an individual with isms cope with change in their daily routine is not something that will happen overnight. It is something that takes years of practice, support, and an understanding team of individuals. Below are a variety of strategies that can be used to help support an individual with isms to learn to cope with change in routine.
Use a visual schedule with a special symbol that indicates that a change in schedule is going to take place. Write out upcoming changes for an older individual so that they can read it over and over as many times as they need to. There are some wonderful apps to help build a visual schedule.
Write a social story about changes and how to cope when a change may make you feel anxious. There are also apps for creating social stories on the fly.
Five Point Scale
Use the Five Point Scale focusing on change and coping with changes. And yes! There is also an app for that!
Reassure the individual that everything will be okay. Let the individual know that you are aware that the change makes them feel anxious and that you are there to help them cope with change. In search of solutions to be able to offer? Check out the resources on anxiety and transitions.
Warn the individual with isms about a change before it happens (the more notice the better), if this is possible.
Support the individual while they try to process, accept, and cope with the change. Allow extra time for the individual to process the change.
Adapt and Cope with Change
Coping with change can be hard – trust me, I know. Over the years, I have improved at accepting and coping with changes in schedule or routine. Now, there are times when changes do not bother me. I am able to adapt to them and accept them similarly to an individual without isms.
There are still days where changes cause me to get anxious, unsure, nervous, upset, and result in me not being able to cope for a short period of time. This is in part due to the way my brain processes information and the way my particular ism affects me and my way of thinking.
The most important thing to remember when working with an individual who struggles with change is that they are more than likely trying the best they can to function in a sometimes confusing world. No one is perfect, we are all humans, everyone makes mistakes, and that is okay; it is simply a part of life. Everything is a learning process.