One of the common denominators I’ve noticed in every book I have read is that Aspies like routine. Like isn’t a strong enough word… they need, crave, can’t function without routine. This is certainly true for our Aspie. Every now and then we can get away with verbal schedules when there is not a lot going on. For example, in the morning at breakfast I will tell him, “After school you are going to the YMCA, I will pick you up around 5:30 and we’re coming straight home.” When we get home he knows that he gets 5-15 minutes of “free choice time” before he has to start his homework and finish his chores. He then gets free choice time until dinner is ready. After dinner he has to take a shower and get ready for bed. If any one of those things gets mixed up without warning he can become angry, irritated, or start a full-blown meltdown (wailing and gnashing of teeth, etc.).
Aspies are not usually great organizers of their time. They get distracted or they get involved in a project, and when their time is up they have a hard time transitioning to another task. Can you see where this would be a problem, say, in a classroom? We have some stress-relieving techniques that have worked wonders for Cullen’s stress level, and by extension ours as well.
SCHEDULES AND LISTS
Cullen likes to be independent. He enjoys doing things for himself, especially doing what he is supposed to be without mom and dad telling him. In the mornings before school he would fight getting ready, he would fight me when I tried to wake him up even. He kept saying, “I know what to do mom. I’m a big kid. I don’t need you to tell me!” But we were constantly struggling to get ready in time for school. Then he asked me for an alarm clock. He said he would be able to get up and get ready easier if the clock woke him up and he could see the time. We went down, and bought a Lego alarm clock with a radio. This helped a great deal with him not getting angry at me for waking him up, but he would get distracted with toys and not actually be getting ready for school.
When I first heard about Carol Gray’s Social Stories I wondered a) Where was I going to find the time? b) Would it work? c) Where was I going to find the imagination and creative juice for it? But mostly where was I going to find the time? We have books that teach lessons, but they’ve never made much of an impact for Cullen. Social Stories work because they are personal and usually incorporate the subject’s obsession somehow. At the time I was researching one of the major struggles we were having was with Cullen’s showering methods. He would either not be in there long enough to clean himself, be in there for way too long, or he would start playing with the soap/shampoo and dump it down the drain. Daily showers were getting costly. Dad and I would have to yell up the stairs to remind him of the next step, or sit in the bathroom to keep him on track. I was trying to think of a social story using his obsession… Legos. Then I thought… we are photographers! I can make him Instructions for a shower using his Legos and take pictures of each step. So I built a bathroom that looks like his, (look there’s even a little toilet!) assembled a Lego Cullen and set up a mini studio to take the pictures. I used whipped cream for the soap and shampoo shots. I dropped the photos into Photoshop and created specific directions for him. We laminated it and taped it in the shower. Since then we hardly ever have to remind him what to do next or hurry him up to get out. Granted, we still do a smell check to make sure he’s actually washed his hair… but for the most part he is an Independent Shower Taker now. Our guests might think we’re crazy, but who doesn’t love a little Lego comic while they are showering?
One of our dear friends, Bethany Barton, created a How To Brush Your Teeth comic with a dinosaur (another one of his favorite things) for us to put on the bathroom mirror. How awesome is this dinosaur? And his teeth are so white and clean! I love all the little details she included. She knows exactly how his mind works and she thought of everything.. like turning the water off and rinsing the brush?!?! Get out of here with your thoroughness Bethany!
So the moral of the story is that it takes trial and error, and lots of tools. Try some of these out and let me know the results! I’d love to hear what works for you.