Those who live or work with autistic individuals know that transitions can be difficult. There are the big transitions, like starting a different school, moving to a new house, dealing with major schedule changes due to divorce, etc., or some other big change. They are the mountains that we sometimes have to climb. And they often feel insurmountable.
But what about the little transitions? The daily hurdles that for some autistic people cause such an upheaval? The minor changes that sometimes come up due to a cancellation? Even the regular transitions between daily activities can be difficult to navigate. A small part of me understands because of the way I feel about bathing and swimming. I love to be in the water, but I’d rather not experience the transitions involved in getting in and getting out. I’m cold when I first get in the shower, cold when I get out, and then I have to deal with wet hair and skin. My own little sensory issue? Probably. Of course after I’ve dried off and gotten dressed, I always love feeling clean and relaxed. But I take that feeling of not liking the transition and I apply that to how I deal with Nigel when he’s having trouble with a small transition. A little empathy goes a long way.
When he attended the middle school, he had trouble with transitioning from class to class. It wasn’t because he would forget where to go. It was because the halls were noisy and kids would come up to him and harass him and he’d get to his next class angry and the teacher would tell him to sit down and that only added to his negative frame of mind. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to change classes. He just had trouble with the transition. And the school wasn’t willing to let him leave class three minutes early to avoid that. Yet another reason why I decided to homeschool him.
Now that he’s home, he no longer has difficulty transitioning to different school subjects. But we still experience some trouble with transitioning between activities, especially if the new activity takes him away from Lego building, YouTube surfing, or movie watching. You would think that a teenage boy who eats non-stop would be happy to hear the phrase “Dinner’s ready!” and come running. Not so. His typical response is “That fast?!” in a disappointed tone. I have tried modeling more appropriate responses for him, such as “Thanks, Mom” or even “In a minute,” but it has become such a habit for him to say “That fast?!” that I can’t seem to break him of it.
But I often forget the all-important warnings. “Dinner is in 15 minutes,” and then “Dinner is in 5 minutes” to ease him into it. It’s hard to remember all the enabling things you have to do as a parent of a child with a disability, just so that things run smoothly. Even when you do them for so many years, you can sometimes forget. And I try not to think about the fact that he probably says “That fast?!” when he’s visiting a friend’s house and the friend’s parent says “Dinner’s ready!” Maybe next time he goes to a friend’s house, I’ll email the parent the link to this post. And they can read about how to manage their child’s high-maintenance, sometimes inappropriate friend! Or I’ll just apologize in advance for his apparent rudeness.
I used to try to enforce a rule at the dinner table: no toys allowed after age 6. “Only little kids need toys at the table,” I’d say. But Nigel always had to bring a piece of whatever occupied him before dinner to the table: an action figure, a Lego creation, a stuffed animal, a magazine. It seemed to be the only way he could transition. And whenever we left the house, he did the same thing. He would keep a little something from home in his pocket and hold it periodically. Like his own way of saying, You can take it with you. So I finally realized, okay, this is what he needs. And I changed the no-toys-at-the-dinner-table rule to “No toys bigger than an apple at the dinner table,” and everyone’s a lot happier.
I think the bottom line is figuring out how to work with the little transitions. The big ones are a different story, but the little ones can be more manageable provided that you’re willing to act like an enabler. Let them bring something in the car or to the dinner table. Give notice when it’s nearing time for a change of activity, even dinner. Yeah, I wish I didn’t have to do that with a teenager. But when the goal is to make a transition smoother, and I find a way to do that, I’m just going to go with it and not worry about how much of an enabler that makes me. The day will come when we’ll have to transition out of that mode, and I’ll deal with it then. I’m sure I’ll come up with something that works.