Routines and Resistance to Change
Yesterday I got the bright idea to rearrange basically the whole house to rock Silas’ world, again. I do this every so often to remind him that things are not always under his control. Sometimes things will change or his routine will get out of whack and we must find ways to cope with those changes. The last few times I did this it took a while for him to adjust. We worked on ways for him to adjust and accept the changes for what they were, a temporary bump in the road.
Last night when I showed Silas his room we just paused in the doorway taking it all in. It was as if I could almost see the wheels turning in his mind. I explained to him that it was time for a change and he would adjust to it in no time. We spent time going through the changes and learning where things were now located. The one major thing that he had an issue with is that I took his changing table down. I explained that he is too big for me to put him up on it and he needs to learn how to use the potty. He just smiled at me, like yeah right! Other than that he didn’t mind the change at all. Wow!
Some of you may be wondering why I am making a big deal about this…if you have a child with ASD or know someone that is then take a moment to read this. It is very informative and I wish I would have known this a long time ago.
Many people with an ASD have a strong preference for routines and sameness. Routines often serve an important function – they introduce order, structure and predictability and help to manage anxiety. Because of this, it can be very distressing if a person’s routine is disrupted.
Sometimes minor changes such as moving between two activities can be distressing; for others big events like holidays, birthdays or Christmas, which create change and upheaval, can cause anxiety. Unexpected changes are often most difficult to deal with.
Some people with an ASD have daily timetables so that they know what is going to happen, when. However, the need for routine and sameness can extend beyond this. You might see:
- changes to the physical environment (such as the layout of furniture in a room), or the presence of new people or absence of familiar ones, being difficult to manage
- rigid preferences about things like food (only eating food of a certain colour), clothing (only wearing clothes made from specific fabrics), or everyday objects (only using particular types of soap or brands of toilet paper)
- a need for routine around daily activities such as meals or bedtime. Routines can become almost ritualistic in nature, having to be followed precisely with attention paid to the tiniest details
- verbal rituals, with a person repeatedly asking the same questions and needing a specific answer
- compulsive behaviour, for example a person might be constantly washing their hands or checking locks. This does not necessarily mean they have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) but if you are concerned about this, speak to your GP in the first instance.
People’s dependence on routines can increase during times of change, stress or illness and may even become more dominant or elaborate at these times (Attwood, 1998). Dependence on routines may increase or re-emerge during adolescence.
Routines can have a profound effect on the lives of people with an ASD, their family and carers, but it is possible to make a person less reliant on them.
THAT is why I do things to rock the ritualistic world that Silas lives in. He is set in his routines. We go the same way to and from daycare; he won’t eat new foods; we have a set routine for eating, bathing, and bedtime; he repeats things a thousand times until it is answered or repeated just the way he wants; and so much more. I do NOT want to live in this world with him for forever and I do NOT want him to be stuck in needing this world. Granted he is still very young but if I am able to break these habits now then that is much better for all of us. We all have our routines which can be healthy, but not if we need those routines.