Building Flexibility

An article on helping autistic children adjust to changes in routine.

by Leslie Kimmelman, Author of A Little Bit Different, a Little Bit the Same 

I have a confession to make: Flexibility is not, and has never been, my strong suit—nor that of anyone in my family, autistic or not. So really, since my son was born and later diagnosed with autism, we’ve all been learning how to better roll with the punches… because if there’s anything that life has taught me, it’s that very little goes exactly to plan!

I’m still no role model, but I have picked up a few strategies along the way to use when things turn topsy-turvy:

  • I acknowledge that plans have changed, that things are different (or even weird—a word we use a lot in my family), but we can return to the original idea another time.
  • I reframe the new plan as an adventure. As in, “We’re still going to the beach, but it will be a windy-day adventure.” Or, “You can’t go to the school picnic because you feel sick today, but we’ll have an inside picnic instead, with no ants to bug us. I’ll even bring my guitar!”
  • I write everything down. First we’ll… then we’ll … Partly that’s a habit I’ve developed as an author, but it helps to have a visual reminder of how that day’s story is going to go.
  • Practice makes perfect. Like Julia’s family, it helps to work in small changes into the daily routine whenever possible.