Adjusting to Change, Especially for Children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder or ADHD

A parent recently asked why it was so difficult for her tween son (we’ll call him Mark) to handle a family vacation.

Given Mark’s age, he’s certainly at that point in time when change and flexibility is more common, frequent, and essential than ever in his past.

Given the characteristics of Asperger’s and ADHD, the intensity and difficulty of these experiences are much different for Mark than they are for his peers and as a result, they impact him to a greater extent.

Here’s a link that you may find helpful.

It extends the thinking about change across the developmental continuum and offers perspective. Given the fact that such an article even exists speaks to the general difficulty experienced by all of the kids.

In the end, Mark is going to need us all to work on this. He’ll continue to struggle with change given the fact that change continues, just as you see in the link…however, I’d encourage you to incorporate some different approaches to him. After you’ve explicitly instructed him, ask him if he’s aware of the changes in your voice during the 2nd time you directed him and what those changes might mean (cue him to the change in turn, prompting him to change). When he does get upset, ask him if he’s feeling frustrated because things aren’t going according to his plan (acknowledge his feelings). Of course, the reinforcement of Mark responding favorably to direction or redirection should follow as closely as possible to the desired behavior. When delivering constructive criticism, however, the recommendation is different. Following up that “teachable moment” within constructive criticism won’t work at all if the emotions resulting from the difficulty transitioning are still present. It’s like telling a pitcher how he should have pitched to that last batter who got a hit before the last out of what would have been a no-hitter. Time’s got to pass before he’s ready to hear it but not too much time that the experience is all but forgotten.

The key is for Mark to build off of his experiences and develop his own awareness. By teaching him strategies that he finds effective, he’ll be better equipped to handle future changes with greater independence.