Change is in the nature of things; it is inevitable. The earth heats and cools. Seasons come and go. Water tables rise and fall. Human populations increase, decrease, migrate. New tools change the ways societies function. People multiply, resources diminish, and waste builds. Civilizations appear and disappear. ~ Marion Brady
- Hardees stops giving out toys.
- Parents may not tell you where you are going to eat lunch.
- Moms grow tired of their children nagging them about doing Wii Fit.
- Wii Fit trainers change.
- Bricks fall off the sidewalk.
- Some seeds never sprout.
- Sometimes it rains when you want to walk.
The hardest thing about autism is not language delays or poor social skills. It is rigid thinking. Ten years ago, Pamela would have a meltdown if we left the drive-thru without a toy. She would have cried at not being told what we were having for the next three meals. Many parents feel trapped between the Scylla of giving in and the Charybdis of dealing with a meltdown. Children in the autism spectrum have a hard time with change, so they try to instill sameness by having control. However, if we deal with language without addressing static thinking, we have someone who seeks control through longer words and better reasoned arguments. If we deal with social skills without seeking dynamic thinking, we have someone who is better at manipulating our behavior as we have modeled manipulating theirs.
The other day, the lady at Hardees told us they were no longer offering toys with their kids' meals. At first, Pamela cried—only for about a minute. I told Pamela that I was just as surprised as she was. Then, she asked about other fast food places in our town. I replied that they were still offering toys as far I as knew. Drawing upon the vocabulary she has gleaned from her personal study of the history of television—debut, episode, finale, etc.—Pamela stopped crying and announced, "Hardees is rebranding." Her reflection helped her put the situation into perspective.
Encouraging dynamic thinking (which we learned to do through Relationship Development Intervention) goes beyond avoiding unpleasant scenes. Because the weather for our walk was so gloomy, my friend and I decided to head to Cracker Barrel for lunch instead of having our usual picnic. Since Pamela has been thinking so flexibly lately, I did not alert her in advance. On the drive to the wildlife refuge, Pamela asked, "What's for lunch?" I playfully told her, "It's a surprise," and glanced at her from the corner of my eye. She smiled and said, "Is it a hamburger?" I replied, "Probably." Then, she asked, "Is it McDonald's?" "Nope!" Then, she asked, "What's Tammy eating?" I answered, "I'm thinking about soup." She giggled and added, "It's a mystery!" Pamela knew enough that she did not press me for more information. She was content to learn the location of our meal later.
Pamela still tries to control me. I had intended to work out on Wii Fit Thursday night. Pamela knew about my plans and came close to stalking me. She watches my every move and gets angry when I fail to take steps toward getting ready to exercise. I gave her a couple of warnings about her nagging me, and then I told her that I did not like to be controlled and I was not going to work out. She was not happy but the tears eventually subsided. The next day, she left me alone. Even though I did not exercise until nine in the evening, she let go of her need to control me.
More dynamic thinking is emerging during her Wii Fit routine. To begin with, it is not a routine. While she likes getting her program done early in the day, she sets up a routine that randomly picks exercises. She turns away from the television and wonders aloud, "Is it trainer [yoga or strength] or Mii character [aerobic or mind and body]?" and giggles when she sees the result. She usually sticks with the female trainer. Occasionally, Wii Fit has the male trainer show up and Pamela finds the switch absolutely hilarious. She is clearly learning to appreciate surprises.
How do you foster embracing change? One critical step is to slow down and let your child think at their own pace. The other day Pamela came bounding into the house with excitement. She announced with glee, "I fixed the brick!" She probably chose electrical tape because we have it sitting on the kitchen table next to materials we are using to explore batteries. [Don't let the white stuff fool you: it's not glue! We've had a lot of birds visiting lately.] Right now, giving Pamela time means that I am not going to point out any potential issues with her solution. I will let nature take its course and give her time to observe what happens, refine her theory about fixing the brick, and, if necessary, come up with another solution.
Another example is from our work in botany. We finally finished repotting all of our plants. Again, we checked the sunflower seed and saw no progress. On her own, Pamela concluded that it had failed and decided to try a new seed. I could have offered her that solution two weeks ago. I'm glad I showed restraint because she figured it out on her own.
When we first started walking our beloved trail, I had wondered if I could stick to our plan of going, even on the most dreary days. We love being out with the sun basking on our face. We have noticed new things in fog, mist, and wind. We have tolerated even cold days. Yesterday, I wondered about walking it in the rain—wondered if we would be chilled to the bone because of our soggy sneakers. As always, we enjoyed another lovely day, albeit wet.
I noticed something intriguing about Pamela yesterday. Sometimes, she gets ahead of us and walks to her "sit spots" along the way. She waits patiently for us to catch up to her. Yesterday, I often saw her turn around and watch what we were doing. I caught her observing us in several pictures. Just as I have learned to adjust my pace to her, she is adjusting her pace to me. Part of learning the dynamics of change is adjusting one's pace to match that of another.
Human societies either adapt to change or die... If we value our way of life, we need to understand the dynamics of change. ~ Marion Brady