Why "Running with Bunions"?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Transition in Autism

The tunnel was dark, backlit by water filled storefronts stuffed with sea life: sting rays, dolphins, coral, fish. Feet clattered, voices murmured. As we moved hurry-hurry-rush-rush from one exhibit to the next, Wonder Boy grew increasingly agitated. He pointed with a sharp, unfocused finger, shook, slapped his ears. Finally he threw himself to the ground, kicked, flailed, screamed, hit himself in the head.
It was a fun day at the aquarium. Until it wasn't.
To most, transition means life changes that splinter expectations and require personal adjustment: middle schooler starts high school, first year of college, just married, new baby in the house. Divorce.
"Transition" in autism also shatters the status quo. And may be anything that begins, "time to…"
It's putting toys away for bath, to eat dinner or leave the house. It's getting out of bed, getting into bed, brushing teeth, putting on shoes. Transition is leaving any activity, especially when it's "preferred," for any other activity, preferred or not.

To people who love a person with autism, Transition is spelled with a capital T. It's a living, breathing, monster sized noun. It's an active, unpredictable verb. It's a ticking time bomb that, poorly managed, might, could, maybe spell unhappiness - for minutes, hours, days.
The problem with transitions is that there will always be another transition. If you get into the car, you have to get out of the car. Toys taken out must be put away. Come, and eventually it will be time to go. Emergencies happen, requiring quick movement. Work schedules change without notice, people make mistakes, divorce, die, have babies, and estranged parents refuse to communicate, participate, cooperate - altering life's anticipated order.
Recovery: weighted blanket,
cozy space, rotating star light.
As death, taxes and transition are inevitable professionals stress the importance of helping the person with autism learn coping strategies. Techniques are as individual as autism is unique, for example one person might need a quiet leave-me-alone space, while another craves sensory massage. He might yearn to stim (flap hands, point, run trains across a flat surface) or script (patterned repetition of lines from a movie, favorite saying or rhyme). She may cover eyes or ears.
Whenever possible, it helps to prepare the person with autism for imminent change. Wonder Boy's ability to Transition improves when he's given notice along with a timer ("5 minutes to play then we'll brush teeth"). When the timer goes off he moves to the next activity. Sometimes with complaint, but rarely with issues.
The aquarium visit was early in our Autism Adventure. We didn't know about Transition, coping strategies, timers. What Super Daddy did was born of paternal instinct: he assured Wonder Boy was safe during his meltdown. He wrapped Wonder Boy in daddy's strong arms and gently squeezed his son's little body calm. Super Daddy spoke low and slow and created a pocket of peace within the sea of moving people and echoing sound. Together, father and son transitioned to the next display - when Wonder Boy was ready.
And there was serenity. Tranquility. Peace. Until the next Transition.

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