Autism Keys 5: Adaptability
When I was first aware of strategies for dealing with Autism, I kept hearing the same thing: predictability, structure, familiarity, and routine. Unfortunately, setting up a predictable world, with structured activities and a full time schedule, (which is often the suggested way to raise infants these days), is creating a picture of structure and predictability. If this is where your child on the spectrum begins, their ability to adapt can be much less.
When Taz was small I did things differently. I knew how his brain was developing, and why, so I followed a plan that gave him a wide range of experiences. I took him EVERYWHERE, gave him a range of differing schedules and sensations each day, and I fed him as many different foods as I could think of as soon as he began to eat solids. I call this “brain blueprinting”, because when an infant comes home from the hospital, their brain connections are much more numerous and non-specific. Taz was a full-term baby, so at birth he was ready to adapt to whatever surroundings he was born into. By giving him as wide a range of experiences as possible I prepared his brain to be adaptable. I made his surroundings unpredictable, therefore he was introduced to a varied and unpredictable world as a beginning impression. As a baseline, this would go on to affect his capability to cope countless years into the future.
Of course, we don’t all have infants to work with, so if you begin with an idea of your initial blueprint, thus your child’s initial ideas about the world, then this can help you re-teach the brain more gently to deal with variation. When you’re altering the blueprint, it’s about varying things just enough to teach adaptability. A child on the spectrum finds it very difficult when you change everything by going on holiday, or changing the timetable, or even school holidays. Teaching variation can be enhanced greatly with good, established coping styles. Coping Styles can bring familiarity and comfort into new surroundings. If there are predictable and comforting aspects, plus a plan for when they show signs of being overwhelmed, variation can be much gentler and more achievable. Try to vary whatever you can in the way of smaller things, while keeping particular, easily achievable things constant. For Taz this meant getting him acquainted with his port-a-cot, plus taking his iPod, a portable night-light and various comfort items wherever we went for an overnight stay. At least then, his sleeping environment was familiar to him.
Please understand that I’m NOT saying to throw away all routine here. Having important parts of daily life like sleep remaining at a constant can be extremely helpful. From early infancy despite Taz not sleeping much, he had a solid midnight to 6am sleep. For this reason, we were ALWAYS in for the night by midnight, and his bed had familiar items.
Having some daily things that are easy to achieve as well can help give them predictability to cling too. With Taz, I integrated ball play into every day, because this was a happy place for him, and I could take balls anywhere. If you have some good base structures to bring calm, having variation surrounding them can be so much easier to achieve. Trying to make EVERYTHING predictable is setting yourself an impossible goal, which will cause you stress that ultimately your child can take on. So the core of this key is remembering to allow, even Plan variation into your days.
Caution: The brain blueprinting, or ‘flooding’ of experiences is inappropriate for premature babies due to their underdeveloped brain not being ready, but it’s also tougher with older children, as they already have a blueprint of how the world works, therefore the brain blueprinting method is only something that could be effective for full term babies in their early months.
What was your child’s early infancy like?
Can you get a picture of their earliest perceptions of the world around them?
What are the coping styles you can bring into play whenever you vary their would or schedule?
The 7 Autism Keys Program is coming soon!
Through Coloured Shattered Glass is very excited to announce that a new online support program for parents of children on the autism spectrum will be launched early in 2018.
If you would like to be one of the first to find out all the details, please register your interest here.
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Please be respectful of others at all times. We are all on different journeys.
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