Transitioning successfully with the inflexible Mind
Vou Akinsehinwa February 2018
What would you do or how will you feel if having left home at your usual scheduled time, going on your usual way to work for a very important meeting and there is an unusual build-up of traffic? One characteristic of some individuals with ASD is having a rigid thought process and are usually inflexible in their thinking. Therefore, they may:
– prefer routine and structure, and like to do things in a particular way or order;
– dislike change or moving from one place or activity to another; disruption in usual routine.
– find it difficult to organize themselves or their possessions or to tackle and solve problems
– develop strong interests in particular subjects
– Wanting things to go their way, when they want them to, no matter what anyone else may want. They may argue, throw a tantrum, ignore you, growl, refuse to yield, etc.
– Eating a narrow range of foods.
– Having a narrow range of interests, and becoming fixated on certain topics and/or routines.
Moving from one activity to another activity is called a “transition.” Transitions are hard for all children, but they are especially hard for children on the autism spectrum, because they like to keep doing their favorite activity for a long time. More so, the change might be made to a not so fun activity. There are a few things we can do to help our children feel less overwhelmed during times of change or transition:
Visuals Schedule: which is basically a timetable of activities lined up for a particular period in the day or for the whole day.
– At home, draw up a family routine (timetable) especially around your child. Knowing what to expect helps your child feel grounded and secure, especially during times of transition. Maintain family routines around bedtime, TV, and family meals as much as possible. Always talk about activities that will come up outside the usual routine like visiting a friend, taking a road trip or having a guest etc.
– The busy school day, with many transitions and changes of topic, is a challenge for students with ASD. While they can find change and transitions difficult, most school days follow a routine and simple strategies such as making a copy of the timetable easily accessible will help a student transit successfully. In some instances, some students strive for perfection and need extra time to complete a certain work to the highest standard to be satisfied with it, try to make adjustments to accommodate. For younger children who are yet to read, the schedule can be in pictures like the ‘now’ and ‘then’ board has proven to be effective.
Generalizing Learning: When teaching a new skill, teachers need to check that once the student has mastered it in one setting, they also teach it in a different setting (eg, classroom, library, Home). One way to do this is to make sure there are clear prompts and cues that will allow the student to recognize the skills required in the new setting. This way, the child is aware that life can have changes without negatively affecting them as individuals.
Introduce new foods gradually: Give the new food without eliminating the old ones. A system of reward with a desired item will help with this. Parents will need to be a role model by eating and enjoying the new food themselves. Teaching about healthy eating and the benefits of a balance diet will help.
Social Stories: usually a rundown of what is expected to occur during a particular incident or event and how the child should act, greatly helps prepare children for change. Also, use real life experiences which the child has had in the past. Whenever possible, always inject a familiar activity or item during a transition.
For individuals with ASD, each day involves a mental and emotional high personal cost to fitting in. Making them pay that price should be rewarded with a balance of down time because it allows them to do and to be all they want at their own terms.