There was once a time when a day in Cody’s life was filled with regimen and routine. He got up at the same time every morning. He wanted things in his room a certain way. He wanted to eat the same food for breakfast every morning. If anything deviated from his routine then the whole world was no longer right.
But as Cody has grown up and had the chance to experience more of life, adapting to change has started to become easier and in some cases it is even welcomed.
Many other families with loved ones who have some form of ASD tell similar stories. And sometimes adapting to change is very difficult. But change is part of life and even those with ASD must endure it.
In one of my previous columns I spoke of having worked with at-risk youth at a residential treatment facility. It was a job I enjoyed very much. When the schedules changed, however, and I had limited time at home with Cody and Bill, I knew I must leave. Then several weeks ago, I was hired as a Behavioral Health Technician at a local children’s psychiatric hospital. I was elated to be able to work with children again. But the new job would mean a change in our family’s schedule.
My first month of orientation required me to work many different shifts. How could I make this acceptable for Cody? He had been used to me being home at certain times during the day and knowing I would be downstairs in my bed if he needed me at night made him feel secure. So the first thing I did was to go over my schedule with him. I explained to him how it worked. I told him when I would be leaving the house and when I would be home again. Then I hung the schedule on the refrigerator where he could come back and look at it anytime he wanted.
Cody is accustomed to me working days, so there were no issues there. The evening shifts where I work 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. were a bit more touchy, but not terrible. I explained to him that I would be home for him on those days in the mornings and promised to come to his bedroom and let him know when I was home after my shift was done. The overnight shifts were a bit tough for Cody. Those not only require that I be gone all night, but then I am only awake for a few hours when I get home. I get home rather early in the morning, so often Cody is still in bed. Then I go to sleep about an hour or so after he gets up. Not having this time to spend to together is difficult for both of us. But after showing him that there were only a few days per month that would be like this, his anxiety lessened. I always make sure to say goodnight to him before I leave and let him know what time I will be home in the morning. When I do get home, I go to his bedroom and give him a kiss on the forehead. He wakes up just long enough to acknowledge my presence and then he goes back to sleep almost immediately.
Cody knows I will be awake at a certain time in the evening again and we spend time talking while I make my midnight meal to take to work with me. I often have him help me make it. It gives him a sense of pride to do this. He sees it as sort of his responsibility, but one he enjoys because he knows I truly appreciate his help by the praise and acknowledgment I give him.
Overall, giving Cody a good heads up and involving him in the process of making change go smoothly has proven to be quite effective in helping him come to accept both minor and major changes we all go through in life. His anxieties are kept at bay and the lessons he learns are valuable in his development toward reaching his goals of achieving a self-sufficient adult life.