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How Change Creates Stress for Autistic Children

written by: Paula Davis • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 8/28/2010

Whether it's a trip to the doctor, a family vacation or just simple changes to the bedroom or the entire house, even the smallest changes are enough to confuse an autistic child, which can often be rather stressful. This, in turn, can result in some of the most frustrating responses you can expect.

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    So Where does Stress Come in When Something Changes?

    It is important to know how change creates stress for autistic children. Even the smallest changes are difficult for someone with autism. Most people have a daily routine and when something comes up in the middle of the day we can change motors so to speak.

    However, a person with autism can’t manage the change so effortlessly. As we all know every day is different, but for someone with autism these changes can bring a great deal of stress.

    The simple task of placing a child in a car seat to leave home (his/her safety net) can be difficult. My son would cry from the time he was placed in the car seat until the time the car was back in the driveway. Why? I don’t think we know the reason why routine is so important and needed in the daily life, but it does give the child control over his/her environment.

    If a child with autism has a routine to follow, there is less stress; but when the circumstances change you will get unexpected results. Taking the routine away from an autistic child is a disaster waiting to strike, and it will show in their behaviors.

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    Why Changes in the Routine Lead to Stress

    We all take things that we do on a daily basis as simply part of the daily routine. An asperger autistic child takes it a step or two further, treating everything that he/she does on a daily basis as if it were a chore; absolutely nothing is viewed as an adventure if it is not in the usual routine.

    If it is not in the scope of what he/she does routinely, an outbreak in behaviors will take place. These behaviors could be the result of stress, and can include yelling, crying, throwing things, hitting things, breaking things, and cursing. If an observer does not know the circumstances of the child, the behavior can be viewed as a temper tantrum and then one would hear comments about a spoiled child just wanting to get his/her way.

    The child's behaviors are in no way directed at you; he/she just cannot seem to communicate well enough to get their emotions and views expressed appropriately. I am sure I may have left some behaviors out; but trust me, there is a wide variation of completely unacceptable behaviors.

    I must add in this article that people with autism tend to have problems not only with changes in their daily structure, but in their environment as well. If the layout of an autistic child’s bedroom has been constant for years, and you then decide that you want to rearrange the furniture, you need to be aware of how the changes will affect the stress level of your autistic child.

    If you go to the same doctor on a monthly basis and they have rearranged the furniture or added a lamp, guess what? The autistic child will recognize the change and try to put the lamp back where it originally was.

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    Awareness Beforehand May Work to Lessen the Effect

    One of the ways that I tried to alleviate some of the stress that can result from even the slightest diversions from the usual routine was by telling my son ahead of time that a change was coming for the next day. That way, he would be given enough time to make the necessary adjustments to compensate for what was about to happen.

    This had to be done repeatedly of course: it’s not like I could simply mention that a trip to the store was planned or that guests were coming over, and then just drop the subject. He needed to be reminded of the coming adjustments on a constant basis. Of course, it did not work every single time; but then again, nothing is entirely fool-proof. Knowing how even the smallest change can be stressful for an autistic child will go a long way toward making sure that any such changes do not make the child even more stressed. And that should bring down your stress levels too.

    Disclaimer: The content and descriptions herein relate only to my personal experience and/or views thereof, and may not fit all particular cases of these disorders, nor do they reflect the views and/or opinions of Bright Hub, Inc. and/or its writers and editors. Nor is this in any way designed to replace the procurement of any professional medical opinions thereof, so we dutifully ask that you contact a psychologist, pediatrician or any other medical expert related to the exact area of professional expertise before working on any specific treatment or intervention procedures whatsoever.