Thursday, October 21, 2010

Planning a Good Surprise

Like many kids with autism, my son has trouble adapting to schedule changes or other disruptions to the usual routine. Although Kai has had some great days at school lately, including earning 100 points on multiple days, he still has major incidents on other days.

A frequent cause of these incidents at school is when there is an unexpected change in the class schedule. For example, usually on the days when his class goes to the school library, they first return to their desks from their previous activity before lining up to go to the library. But, the other day, because they were running a bit late, the teacher asked the students to line up without returning to their desks. It seems like such a minor change, but, it was enough to set Kai off. He ran up to one of the teaching assistants, struck her, and was verbally inappropriate toward her.

We mentioned this problem with rigidity to Kai’s longtime speech therapist. Alyson gave us an intriguing idea for addressing this.

At home, knowing that Kai has difficulty with change, we have tried to plan everything out for him and let him know the schedule of events at least a day in advance, if not more. We almost always stick to a routine, and it’s been pretty effective at keeping him at peace. However, it may also be keeping him from learning to be flexible.

In life, he is going to have to deal with changes in schedules as there is no way to have everything go according to plan 100% of the time. Toward this, Alyson suggested that we occasionally plan a “good surprise” for Kai. The idea is that we would, on occasion, spring an “unplanned” activity onto his schedule, but, it would be something that he enjoys. So, while he would have to deal with a disruption in the routine, he would get to do something fun, which, hopefully, will mitigate how upset he gets.

We liked this idea and passed it along to Kai’s social worker at school. They are going to look for ways to plan a “good surprise” there as well.

I think the reason that change is difficult for kids like Kai is because they have so much anxiety, and anything that takes them away from the comfort of the routine raises fear that something bad will happen. But, if change can lead to something good, perhaps that will lower his anxiety and help him become less rigid.

For us, that would be a really good surprise.

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