In this post Paddy-Joe, the inspiration for Create a Reward Plan for Your Child with Asperger Syndrome and Helping Children with Autism Spectrum Conditions through Everyday Transitions explains the secret to successful transitions.
My name is Paddy-Joe. I was diagnosed with autism ten years ago when I was eight. Up until that point things had been pretty bad at home, but like a lot of families, after I was diagnosed and we knew precisely what it was we were dealing with, we were able to start addressing the problems we were having. I guess I really wrote this blog for two reasons: one, because obviously, I am not going to lie, I wanted to make more people aware of our book, but also because I genuinely believe that the techniques that we have devised can be a vast help to other families during stressful everyday transitions. Really, I just want to help people out who might be going through the same things we were.
We are pretty lucky in that we are a fairly creative family, so when I was around nine we came up with a few unique techniques of our own that really helped with my behavior and social skills. A couple of years after that we decided that as these techniques had been so useful for us, it was only fair to try to use them to help other families who may have been struggling with the same problems we were. We wrote and published the book Create a Reward Plan for Your Child with Asperger Syndrome under pseudonyms, but even though we had published a book explaining how to help other people, things were far from perfect with us. I don’t really think I need to explain to anyone who has any knowledge of autism just how difficult transitions can be – and I am not even talking about the big ones such as changing schools or moving house. I mean those small, everyday things – week days to weekends, preparing for Christmas or going on holiday – all of those can be extremely stressful for autistic people and their families, and they certainly were for us. Whenever there was a transition such as this I would always get stressed and quite often have outbursts. Obviously, this would affect my parents and have a negative impact on whatever it was we were trying to do. Over a period of time we realised that the best way of dealing with this was in the same way we had dealt with other problems in the past – we set about trying to create a series of techniques to help ease the transitions and changes that went on in everyday life.
One of the techniques we used went as follows: when we knew a change was going to come we would write up a rough plan of how the week went normally; the things we did and what times we did them, for the whole seven days, and draw little pictures to go with this. Then we would draw up a second calendar which looked at the time during the change, so it said what was changing and when, and what the new routine would be. When the transition period was coming to an end and things were changing back to how they’d been before we would draw the first one again to show what things would go back to. We would talk about what we were looking forward to in the change and what might make us nervous. We would also talk about why we may be looking forward to when this transition would be over, but also what good might come out of it in the end.
Techniques such as this were a real help. We noticed changes fast and things became a lot less stressful. As with the first set of techniques we developed we decided it was a good idea to try to write a book advising people on these techniques, to try to help them and give them the benefit of our experience. Because all of the techniques were my Mum’s idea she wrote the vast majority of the information on them. What I added was my first-hand experience as somebody with autism, of how these techniques worked. I was able to talk about how they had changed my behaviour and made me a lot less stressed and anxious when dealing with the changes and transitions that everyday life throws up.
One example of this would have to be having someone come in and do work in the house. Obviously this doesn’t happen particularly often, but it can still be a pretty difficult change for somebody with autism. The whole routine of the day is obviously disrupted but it is something that is necessary and something you have to live with. But learning to live with something is easier said than done. The transition techniques we employed were very helpful at these times.The main techniques we used was the drawing example given above; if we knew someone was coming to do work in the house we sat down and wrote up a list of our daily activities and drew little pictures of these activities. We then talked about what would change while the workmen were in and crossed out anything that we would not be doing during this time. Then we would get a separate sheet of paper and draw pictures of what would be happening. You don’t need any particular skill at drawing to do this and you can write the whole thing on two pieces of paper. It is mostly based around talking about what is happening and what will be happening, but the pictures serve as a visual reinforcement. Also, the drawings might be a very useful way of communicating with children who have difficulties with verbal communication as well as younger children. From my own personal experience I found these techniques to be very useful. They helped to calm me down and to get ready for changes. Really, I think that it was these techniques that made me able to deal with change and transitions in the way that I am now. It is not to say that things were always easy or that I never got stressed out or had a sensory overload during a transition, but the techniques helped me a great deal even if they didn’t change the way I felt or thought overnight.
Jane McDowell and Paddy-Joe are authors of Create a Reward Plan for Your Child with Asperger Syndrome and Helping Children with Autism Spectrum Conditions through Everyday Transitions both published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. They run their own free help and advice service, ASK-PERGERS? Find them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl or read their Blog: http://askpergers.blog.com/