Saturday, December 29, 2012

Who Moved My Routine?

 How to get space in New York City - Central Park.

Those of us with kids on the autism spectrum (and many of us with just typical kids) know that routine is our friend.  Well, it's our friend most of the time.  Except when the routine is broken, then the backlash blowup can be a real PITA.  So routine is good, when it's business as usual, but really a pain when it's broken and our kids can't adjust easily to it.  It's the Catch-22 of autism:  routine as a comfort zone making life easier, or as a straightjacket that paralyzes them when it's removed.  Life with a child with autism is a constant stretching game, a balancing act between having enough routine to make the day run without too many problems, and teaching them to adapt to changes in routine and dealing with the inevitable meltdowns when you change their routines. 

Let's face it:  routine is an illusion, a dream, a temporary state of being.  Everyone eventually has to learn to go with the flow or ride the wave when life gets chaotic and our plans get derailed.  For people with autism this is never easy.  For someone with autism, change can be frightening, overwhelming, paralyzing, maddening, uncomfortable, sad.  Daily routines are their comfort zone, so vacations or big events that upset that routine can be a real trial for them and for their parents, families, and caregivers.  Even little changes can cause huge problems, so big changes can be big trouble for the whole family.

Back to school last September - the return of the school routine.

Every day of Christmas break Safety Guy has asked us, "What are we doing today?"  He wants to know where we're going, who we'll see, what we'll do, how long we'll be out, and when we'll come home.  That small measure of "control" on his part is a big deal.  If he can sort of see the shape of the day ahead, he can better deal with whatever goes on.  He's become quite a bit more flexible over the years, but it's been a long time coming.  He still gets upset over sudden changes.  It's a learning curve, a looooong learning curve.  We still have to push him to deal appropriately with change, put him in situations that stretch him and help him learn new coping skills.  It's like stretching a muscle - it hurts and aches and is uncomfortable for a while, then you get used to it, then you do it all over again, only more.

Broken routine can be almost as much fun as being chased by a T-Rex.

All this is to say that it's been a full week off of school already, and our kids are handling it fairly well so far.  Other years it's not been that way at all, so I'm grateful that we haven't had a major meltdown - yet.  BUT there are still five more days to go before the kids go back to school.  The odds are against us having smooth sailing for all of that time, but we're doing our best.  Thank goodness for a house where we can get away from each other when we really need to.  Togetherness is good, until it's not, if you know what I mean.  My husband is off work this week as well - the most family togetherness we get all year.  Some years we've been at each others' throats after three days, so we're doing better than usual this year.  Maybe we're all growing up?

Sometimes we all need a little space.

So we're keeping it light.  No more big holiday to-dos (we survived those, and they were fun).  No big New Year's wingding - we're staying home.  No long-distance travel, no appointments, no busy-ness.  But having a planned small diversion each day is still a good thing.  They help give an amorphous, unstructured free day some shape, which helps Safety Guy a lot.  For instance, Safety Guy is going out with his Dad later today, just to run errands to the hardware store.  The day is now divided into before and after that planned event, and he's happy with that.  If the kids are in a good mood later, I'll take them to the local animal shelter to hang out with the pets for a while - that activity is always a winner.  The Princess might invite a friend over tomorrow, in which case I'll ask the girls to give SG his space.  He has a fairly low tolerance for silly girl noise.  At least he has his man cave rearranged and somewhat cleaned out now, so he has more space there.  I'll probably create an errand or outing tomorrow so he can go out with me and have a break out of the house, away from the girls.

I'm grateful for the down time from work and school, but I'm just as glad that we'll be back to our normal family routine soon enough.  Then we'll be dealing with the usual challenges of school and work.  And that routine will be good - for a while.

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