Change is inevitable. We change our clothes when they become dirty, we dress differently for a special occasion, and we update our wardrobe as styles come and go or we outgrow (or wear out) our current attire. Family situations are transformed or modified due to death, illness, a new job, a child moving on to college or his own apartment, divorce, marriage, etc. Jobs change, classroom requirements change, and the seasons change.
We can get excited about making a New Year's resolution as we picture a "New Me" or a "New Life" as an adventure or an obvious improvement over our current situation. Yet how many of us have the ability to hang on to that enthusiasm and determination through the New Year, let alone through the first month (or week)?
The truth is, the possibility of change often makes us uncomfortable! This is even more true for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), who tend to prefer routine and consistency. They may be frightened by the unpredictability of the unknown. Even the language of change can be discomforting to them. Words such as "new, different, and change" can provoke very strong reactions in them.
We can adapt our language to suit their need for predictability; to give them the information they need in a calm and reassuring way. When we know their "trigger words"--or those that cause them great anxiety, we can find words that are less provocative to them. For example, the words "another, additional, extra, superior, or better" may be less frightening than "new" or "different."
However, sometimes what we don't say is as problematic as what we do say! I still chuckle when I recall the story of family friends who were getting ready to move to a new house. They had been preparing their three-year-old for the upcoming changes by telling him how much he'd like his new bedroom, the new large backyard for playing ball, and the new basement. They were surprised that he didn't seem very excited, until finally one day he burst into tears and said, "It sounds OK, Mommy, but I sure am going to miss you and Daddy!" In their desire to get him prepared for upcoming changes, they neglected to reassure him about those things that would stay the same! In his young mind, he had a picture of everything being new, and all the old, familiar, comforting things disappearing forever!
With this in mind, don't forget to provide that information whenever you discuss a change or transition. Help your audience hold on to those things which bring stability and comfort whenever possible, thereby easing the anxiety surrounding the knowledge that not everything will stay the same.
Do you have other suggestions regarding this topic? I hope you'll share those with each other here!
As we head into yet another "New Year," I hope you're excited about the potential for what lies ahead, even as you find comfort in those things that are predictable and familiar.