Time for a change: Trying new things
Humans, in general, thrive on routine. Routines are especially cherished by autistic folks–supporting repetitive patterns of behavior, activities, and hobbies. Not only are routines stress relievers, but they bring order in the space of chaos. This is why change can be so tricky; it’s frequently filled with discomfort, uncertainty, and even judgment. Here are some steps you can take to help those you love (including yourself!) ease into changes–whether they’re in a routine, lifestyle, or other areas of life.
Analyze the change
Educators, mental health professionals, and parents should be proactive in finding out what is involved in a specific change of routine for autistic folks. Visual supports can help, in this case, to better explain the change that will be taking place. Timetables are great visual support that can be used to communicate physical changes.
It’s helpful to use a reference point, like after school instead of a specific time. For example, if you want your child to be in bed earlier than usual, your timetable should display a photo of your child getting tucked in for bed after a photo of bath time.
Detail the change
Describe what is to be expected. You’ll quickly cut down on surprises. Explaining and preparing for the situation will reassure a positive experience–and provide enough time for the individual to process what you are presenting. If a new location is part of the change, exploring the new environment ahead of time can help build familiarity and ease anxieties.
There is no such thing as over-preparing, an accommodation to aid in this obstacle would be to create a countdown. A countdown could lead up to the event providing a reasonable amount of time to prepare and encourage the individual to continue forward.
Support behavior through the change
You might encounter behavioral changes while transitioning between activities, prompting anxiety and stress. Think about incorporating enjoyable activities to make transitions more pleasurable, easing the apprehension. Don’t forget your sense of understanding. This is a new thing–be flexible while they are trying to cope with these changes.
Do the groundwork, determine what activities are preferred by the child and how you can incorporate them. For example, if the child loves to color and that is their de-stressor, come prepared with crayons and a coloring book for them to color in between transitions.
Plan extra time for the change
Try to add in new activities slowly. Presenting activities one at a time can help to increase comfort when attempting new activities steadily. Support the individual until they are comfortable moving to new activities without refusal. Be sure to keep your eyes open for signs of anxiety, and encourage a safe space for expression and awareness while providing additional accommodations.
Remember to ask questions
- How can I make this change easier for you?
- How can I support you through this change?
- Is there anything I can bring/do to support you while we go through this change?
It is crucial for neurodiverse youth to feel respected for who they are while also learning techniques for recognizing and communicating their own needs. Our job as advocates is to support and adapt spaces to help reduce anxiety towards change.
After speaking with dozens of therapists, teachers, and neurodivergent youth, we learned that trying new things was a big challenge for youth and professionals alike. That’s why our team at Social Cipher centered our newest episode of our game series, Ava around coping with change and new experiences! This upcoming episode follows our favorite autistic space pirate, Ava, when trying new things as she works her way through social challenges, self-doubt, and connecting with her community. We also provide a matching curriculum and a tracking/streaming platform to help educators and counselors dive deeper into social-emotional concepts with their students and clients. Our neurodiverse team aims to empower neurodivergent youth and professionals to grow, play, and learn towards social-emotional success and self-advocacy through our game series and companion application platform. You can learn more about our team and work here, and get our game series here.
Interested in getting Ava for your therapy center or school for engaging, empowering social-emotional learning? Schedule a chat with us!