Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Roll With The Changes

As last week started to develop I realized that we were in for a crazy couple of weeks. It was time for school to start back and that always throws off Konner’s routine (what little structure the summer has for him). He has just begun to get used to not going to school, and it’s time to start back again. We are all creatures of habit, but for an autistic person that can be amplified. When you throw a wrench in things it can turn their world upside down.

Who can forget the famous lines from the 1988 movie Rain Man where Raymond Babbit says, “Fifteen minutes to Judge Wapner.” Raymond had his life scheduled down to the minute. While his agenda was a little tighter than most, the results were similar to those of us with a child on the spectrum. If you break that cycle it can cause a huge disturbance including major meltdowns.

The first day came and I was scared to death. Didn’t know how things were going to work out. I can remember last year that the first couple weeks were not the best. He was defiant, over stimulated, and disruptive. But, as the first day was under our belts Konner did well. His teacher said he was good, he didn’t get into trouble, and other than a few disruptions he was pretty well behaved. His communication notebook said that his behavior was good and that he had some trouble with talking and staying in his chair, but with redirection he was fine.

That same notebook on Friday, the second day of school, was lined with comments. This proved to be a bit of a turning point. According to the page he had to “turn a card” for hitting, went to timeout, was removed from the classroom twice, visited the principal, hit his aid, threw a pencil at his teacher, got upset during a test, kicked his desk, screamed, and tore holes in his worksheet.

There are other circumstances that led to all of these issues, but they all seem to stem from a change in routine. This change in his lifestyle has caused him to be over stimulated, and it makes it harder to calm him or console him when he gets upset. We still have to work some things out with the new teacher and his aid as well.

It’s only been two days, so it’s still too early to determine what he’s going to be like, but I am prepared for the worst right now. This is because I know it’s difficult for him to start new things.

In the classroom he still has to get used to when the different subjects change. He’ll have to get used to the times he leaves the classroom for lunch, recess, music, gym, etc. He will have to get used to all the new students that were not in his classroom last year.

I feel positive that things will get better though. I remember back to a time when his bath had to be the same every night. He would have to get undressed a certain way. Then he would have to put the plug in. Then turn the water on. Then shampoo. Then soap. Everything was so structured that if you veered off of that the least little bit he would go into a full meltdown. Now he has very little structure to his baths. This is because we’ve worked with him to let him know he doesn’t have to do things in a specific order. I’m not saying it wasn’t rough and didn’t take some time, but it got better.

So what do you do to help? Here are a few things that we have been trying with Konner that seem to help.

Talk to your child about what is supposed to happen. If you know, find out what kind of things are going to happen in the classroom such as recesses, no naps, when lunch is, etc. Explain that lunch is going to be noisy, and that you will have to have music during a certain time. These things can help them to roll with the changes a little bit more.

We also sat Konner down and explained to him the difference between good choices and bad choices and what would happen if he made bad choices both at school and at home. We explained that he couldn’t do certain things like screaming, hitting, and disobeying (of course he still did those things, but remember it is still a work in progress).

Just this morning I looked at his communication notebook and went over the issues that the teacher and the aid had with him. We talked about what he did and why he shouldn’t. We also talked about what he should have done instead of making the bad choices. Another important thing we did was ask him why he did those things. You can learn a lot from the other side of the story. Konner explained to us why he did some things and it made much more sense.

You also need to tell them that things could change so they are prepared. The school day never goes exactly the same each day. When that happens they need to know that there is a possibility that it will change.

While most experts that I’ve researched tell you to stick with a strict routine for children on the spectrum, I only partially agree with this. Yes a solid routine is a great idea. If you can keep a child on a routine throughout the day then he is going to have a better day. However, we all know that change is going to happen. Plans get changed. We have to prepare our children for that change in routine. Yes it’s going to be a tough time regardless, but if we let them know things can change then it’s less hectic. Don’t forget we also are preparing them for life.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.

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