All people encounter change on almost a daily basis, whether it’s routine, minute change, or major, life-altering change. We know that people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) tend to have difficulty dealing with change. However, all people respond differently to change. How one person responds to change will usually depend in part on personality, coping style, other factors the person is dealing with concurrently, past experiences and exposure to change, how the change presents itself, and even a person’s age.
The research I’ve done indicates that responses to change tend to be the same as the responses typically associated with grief. Research varies when describing the different ways of responding to grief or change. But most indicate something similar to the following:
Denial: Refusing to accept the change or the need for change;
Anger: Often people will look for someone to blame, and may respond by lashing out at other people—particularly those they choose to blame for the situation, but also others who may be close-by;
Bargaining: Trying to find a way around the change, or trying to substitute other options for the proposed change;
Depression: Sometimes people are so overwhelmed by change that it drags them down emotionally, and they find it difficult to function even in other areas;
Acceptance: Accepting the change, and possibly even feeling empowered by it or enthusiastic about it;
Many people believe that the most important aspect of change is how we respond to it. Last week we looked at the need to be flexible so that we can adapt to change. This week we’re looking at how change can prompt us to grow…if we let it.
“If you don't like something, change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it” (Mary Engelbreit). In other words, there are some changes we can initiate in order to promote progress. When changes are unexpected or unwelcome, we can try to have a positive attitude about them. In fact, we can “Resolve to be a master of change rather than a victim of change” (Brian Tracy) We may not be able to control the situations which force us to think differently about the way we do things, or to respond differently, or those which completely change our circumstances, but we can continue to stay involved in the process in order to help ensure that good can come from it.
Sometimes change can promote emotional growth. When a relationship changes, we learn something about ourselves and may possibly gain skills for maintaining healthy relationships. Other times change can promote financial growth. Many of us are forced to change our spending habits because of dwindling savings accounts or lost income. With time, we may find that we do a better job of saving, and identify fewer things we “need” to spend money on. Change can also promote professional or intellectual growth. Many of us continue to learn new computer skills as our world depends more on electronic communication, banking, and other services. We may be forced to learn other new skills because of a job change or to help our children adapt to change in classroom instructional techniques. If we can maintain a positive attitude about change, and work to avoid denying, resisting, lashing out at, or being overwhelmed by change, we may find that it helps to bring about many new opportunities for growth!
I’ll close with one final quote on change. Okakura Lakuzo once said, “The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.”
Best wishes to all of you as you face new changes this week. Remember that change can promote progress and growth in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we live and work!