A common almost clichéd view of autism is the person who throws a tantrum because of some seemingly minor change to routine, like a fork being on the left side of the plate rather than the right. Not all children with autism show that level of reaction to change, but order is an important part of managing autism. Children with high-functioning autism use stability to manage anxiety, exert control and generalize their skills to new environments.
Children with autism display a wide range of intelligence. The mental health information site Psych Central explains that the disorder is sometimes divided into low-functioning autism, where patients have below-average intelligence or are nonverbal, and high-functioning autism, where patients have average or above-average intelligence. High-functioning autism so similar to Asperger's syndrome that the DSM-V, the latest version of the diagnostic manual used by doctors, no longer lists Asperger's as separate from autism. Children with high-functioning autism can learn to take care of themselves and stability can be an important foundation to their independence.
The National Autistic Society, a British autism charity, suggests that routines help children with high-functioning autism to gain control over their environments. The routines introduce predictability into their worlds that reduces their anxiety and fear of the unknown. Psych Central links the need for stability to the child's senses. Routine gives order to a world full of chaotic sensory inputs. A change in routine, even a very small change, can upset the child and cause a disproportionate emotional response. Providing stability reduces anxiety and repetitive or unpredictable behavior.
A set of parenting tips distributed by Montgomery County, Maryland, emphasizes that stability is important as a learning tool. Children with high-functioning autism may have trouble generalizing something learned in one environment, like school or therapy, into another environment, like home. It never occurs to them to practice the same skills in both locations. Parents can help by keeping lines of communications open between teachers, therapists, babysitters and other caregivers and ensuring that any skills learned in one place are practiced consistently in all parts of the child's life.
Some children with high-functioning autism develop less need for rigid order as they grow older, though they may still revert to old behaviors under stress. Parents may be able to reduce a child's need for routine through therapeutic and pharmaceutical solutions. Parent and therapists can teach children the skills they need to cope with changes in routine. Psych Central points to a study that shows the drug fluoxetine produced higher tolerance to changes in environment in 60% of the patients who took it. Some children may always require rigid routines, but children with high-functioning autism can use this stability to grow into independent adults.
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