Coping with change
While everybody with autism is different, it can be a common trait for many with this diagnosis to not cope well with change. This can be difficult enough in everyday life where changes to routine happen all the time due to everyday life factors. Even subtle changes to routines can be extremely anxiety-provoking for some, such as going an alternative way home at the end of the day. Such anxiety can lead to lots of questions being asked, in an attempt to gain reassurance, or even challenging behaviour.
Unfortunately, at the moment, things are even more unpredictable due to the pandemic. For almost two years now, the rules on what we can and can’t do have frequently changed and are often different within the four nations of the UK. Even as restrictions ease, there are still other changes to constantly keep up with – e.g. which age groups can receive boosters and travel requirements to and from different countries. Most people have struggled to keep up with these constant changes but how on earth are you supposed to cope if you have autism?
This is a question that I have been asked many times recently in my work as Speech and Language Therapist.
My first piece of advice to help people cope with change would be to make use of visual timetables so that people know clearly what their routine will actually be. Some people can cope with knowing a week in advance, for others that would be too overwhelming and they would need much less information such as one day, half a day or even what is happening right now and then immediately afterwards (commonly known as a ‘Now and Next’ board).
Some people are fine with just writing on such a timetable while others would need extra visuals in the form of photos or symbol. People with autism are often visual learners – remember while the spoken word disappears quickly, a visual reference will remain in place for longer. A visual timetable will reduce the number of questions asked as it will provide the answers and reassurance instead.
Photos to represent activities are easy to produce these days with digital technology. Some people prefer to use symbol sets such as “Communicate in Print”. Remember if people also have learning disabilities with autism then some may not be able to understand symbols – it may be too abstract for them. If changes do need to be made to a person’s routine then the symbols can be taken off and changed for what is actually going to be happening instead. We can’t make the person like these changes but we can help them to understand them to reduce frustration.
When explaining changes verbally to compliment the visuals discussed be sure to use very clear language e.g. no non-literal language – say what you mean. An example of non-literal language would be “we can’t now go out today because it is raining cats and dogs”. The literal version of this would be “we can’t now go out today because it is raining heavily”. Again if people also have learning disabilities with autism then language may well have to be simplified again even further and used in conjunction with other communication techniques such as Makaton. Always remember to go through information with no background distractions , e.g. turn the TV off to aid attention and comprehension!
Easy read versions
Easy read versions of everything Covid related, including rules in your area, can normally be found with ease on the internet for example on the Mencap, NHS and Inclusion North websites. We do not know how many more changes there will be this year but we can at least make them easier to understand.