How to Help An Individual With Autism Cope With Change

Stroppy, Stroppy image by Anne-Marie Walker from

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder. The primary defining characteristic of autism is a lack of social identification and lack of social skills. Often, people with autism seem to live in their own world, unaware of people or activities around them. Other common traits associated with autism includes hand-flapping, repetition of words and phrases, obsessive compulsive tendencies, tantrums, and extreme reactions to change. People with autism can have extreme emotional reactions to the slightest change in routine. Luckily, there are strategies to help someone with autism prepare for change ahead of time and lessen the impact on them.

Stick to a routine as much as possible. Many people with autism are very routine-oriented. Often problems arise when changes occur to their regular schedule. Ideally, you should try to have set times for meals, outings, bedtimes, etc. Try to avoid altering the routine unless absolutely necessary.

Tell the individual with autism what to expect in terms of scheduling for the next day, especially if there is to be a change of plans. Repeat yourself more than once at different intervals. For example, if you are driving your child with autism to school, once before you get in the car tell him you are going to a certain place after school, and then tell him once in the car that you are going to someplace after school, and then remind him again during the drop-off.

Show pictures of places you are going. If you are going to the store, take a picture of the store. Many people with autism are visual, and using pictures can help them prepare for going to places that are outside their normal routine.

Show pictures of any guests who are coming over. For example, instead of saying "Your grandma is coming over," show a picture of Grandma while you describe plans for the visit.

Show the individual with autism how you plan to rearrange things if you are in the middle of cleaning. Rearranging the furniture and other items can really disrupt the child. Moving things around is a big change. Ask the child for input when moving things. For example, "What do you think if we moved the sofa over there?"

Ignore any negative behavior that your child shows as a result of a change. Your child must learn to cope with change despite how difficult that can be. According to in the article titled "Autism and Tantrums," "The most effectual and ideal way to handle tantrum behaviors is to ignore the act." In addition, the article says they also say: "Never blame, reprimand, or even shout at the child.....There is always a reason behind every child's obstinate attitude." Often the reason for their attitude is just that they are finding it difficult to deal with change.