One of Bethany’s most significant struggles as a person with autism is handling change.
She wants everything in her life to always be the same!
A change in her routine, throwing away old, worn out clothes and accepting new ones are tough on Bethany.
Even a change in her environment, like getting a new kitchen table, for example, can be extremely hard on her emotionally!
Our recent move into a new house in a new city has sparked a bit of anxiety for Bethany, even though she had been looking forward to it for a very long time!
For the first two weeks, she coped with her new environment amazingly well!
Before we moved, I had shown her pictures of bunk beds online and asked her if she wanted one for the new house and she did!!
She talked excitedly about getting her new bed for days and when we finally got it she was thrilled!
My husband and I anticipated that she would have a change of heart when we took apart her old bed and drug it away.
She shocked us, however, by excitedly climbing up to the top bunk and happily settling in.
She even slept all night, which is highly unusual!!
She also surprisingly, had no issues with getting a new couch.
But then one day we decided to hang up curtains and for reasons known only to her, she freaked out and had a very aggressive and potentially destructive tantrum.
She did not want those curtains hung up and she let us know it!
However, we didn’t back down and a month later, other than occasionally asking if I can take them down and me telling her no, she has accepted them being there without further incident.
At about the same time as the curtain incident, Bethany started waking up twice a night, every night.
Her need to control everything has also magnified, especially her need to try to control me.
She even tries to dictate to me what outfit I should wear each day, including what color underwear she wants me to wear!!!
TMI, I know!!
The latest issue we’ve had actually happened just yesterday.
We bought a new smaller kitchen table and chairs that fits better in our new smaller house.
Bethany watched Malcolm take apart and remove our old table and chairs without a problem.
She watched him put together the new one without even so much as a hint of distress.
It wasn’t until we put the new table and chairs in place that she blew up!
She wanted the old table and chairs back and was willing to fight for them!
She threw a few things around and threatened to pinch me.
Her tantrum didn’t last long, thank God, but she was grouchy for the rest of the night.
She kept moving the new chairs into another room.
My husband and I decided to leave them there and he would put them back in place before she woke up and he left for work the next day.
It’s now 3:30 the next day and she seems to have accepted them.
Anyway, that’s what I’m optimistically assuming because she hasn’t said a word about them all day.
With all that being said, when I know a change in Bethany’s life is imminent, I’ve learned to try to prepare her ahead of time for the transition.
A feat which can be tricky, because there is a fine line between giving her enough time in advance to successfully process the change, while, at the same time, not giving her too much time to stew about it, which can end up causing her even more anxiety!!
I’m certainly not saying we’ve cured Bethany’s dislike of changes, but below are some suggestions that have helped and might help others with autism cope with changes in their lives as well.
- Social Stories: I am a big fan of social stories. In Bethany’s case I use photos or realistic drawings to explain to her ahead of time what kind of change she can expect to happen soon.
- Timers: For transitioning from one activity to another in her daily schedule I’ve had great success using the Time Timer. This timer lets Bethany see time passing. She knows she must change activities when the red part is all gone. I have to be careful to put the timer up high enough that she can’t reach it though, or she’ll keep giving herself more time!!
- Create a fun transition signal: I use counting to prepare Bethany for changes in activity. For example: When it’s time to get out of the tub, I tell her that I will count to 20 twice, say, “Peek a boo Bethany”, ( She likes to hide behind the shower curtain while I count) then it will be time to get out.
- Practice changes: Practicing the gradual acceptance of small changes in Bethany’s routine, activities, and environment has proven to be very helpful in helping her deal with the more significant changes in her life that cannot be avoided.
I truly believe that Bethany’s attendance at Flash Club, a social club for children with autism, has played a huge part in helping her accept changes better.
She participates in several eight week sessions of activities on a rotating basis. At first changing activities was very stressful on her. She melted down a lot!
But concentrating on one activity for eight weeks gives her plenty of time to enjoy each activity while also processing the idea that a change is coming.
Now she realizes that changing activities gives her more fun things to do and she looks forward to each new activity.
In the video below, my husband and I discuss the potential change to Bethany’s environment!
* A version of this post was previously published in February 2015.