angry childHigh-Functioning Autism can be a challenge in a lot of ways, but none so much as ridigity. The decision to support a cause or idea, beyond what would seem normal is familiar territory for parents of those with autism. Kids can be downright unreasonable. This is especially true of kids on the autism spectrum.

Some Examples of Autism Rigidity:

  • interests or hobbies
  • clothes they wear
  • foods they eat or refuse to eat
  • sensory sensitivities, such as noise, and textures
  • unreasonable fears

Often when it occurs, a parent may feel blind-sided, since it feels as though it came out of nowhere. How perseveration gets started is one of Life’s Great Mysteries. What causes a casual interest to become an all-encompassing quest? Why does a compliant child suddenly plant her feet and refuse to budge? Is it an internal dialogue? Is it media influence? Is it the cereal she had for breakfast? Whatever it is, parents are hard-pressed to stop the train once it starts. Sometimes, the rigidity comes from changes in the child’s perceived schedule. This s very common in a child who otherwise isn’t particular about their environment. A family member travelling; plans that change; a situation outside the realm of the child’s “script.” These are all opportunities for parents to practice their coping skills. Kids with autism simply don’t bend well. It’s true. They lock on to whatever is important to them at the time, and they will defend that position until either, you give in, or you deescalate the situation. In the case of clothes, a child may decide to only get dressed if one particular outfit is available. You have some choices then:

  • You can find the outift, figure what the heck and live to fight another day
  • You can cancel plans and let her sit around in her pajamas all day
  • You can try to reason with her… and grow old in the process
  • You can strongarm her and force her to bend to your will

Some days, it is easier to retreat. And in the grand scheme of things, it is often the best thing to do. No one wins a power struggle. If you force a child to sit down, she’s still standing up in her head. It is easier to cooperate and find a solution than it is to force anyone to do anything. There will be time for teaching…in fact it is necessary. But the middle of a conflict is not the time to try to teach. They aren’t listening, anyway.

Flexibility is Key

The point here is that by being flexible, even after the fact, you can frequently manage to bring a difficult situation back under control. Often with autism, the plan you make is the one that you have to break. Or, rather, rethink. If the plan is stone-cold, rigid, it will break, and it’s not pretty when it does. Be open to change. Model the behavior you want to see in the child. Show the child, who cannot, at that moment, disengage, HOW to back down, and how to find a solution that everyone can live with. Change your plan.

It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that plans change. Kids with autism really like structure. They like to know that things are arranged the way they want (and often need) them to be. But, as the adult, it is much easier for your to be flexible than it is for them. The plans change because you get that the need is for a different plan. By tweaking the agenda, you can often avoid a greater meltdown. And isn’t that what we all really want?

In another article, discussion will take place regarding fears and what to do with a fearful child… this is a different situation and the above may not apply. 

Tina Cruz is a writer, wife and mother of three children. The two youngest children have high-functioning autism and the oldest is gifted. She advocates for autism awareness and education, as well as acceptance. She views autism as a growth process and the opportunity to connect parents for support as a privilege. She is the editor of the Special Needs channel here at Typeamom. Her personal blog can be found at Send Chocolate

Photo of child, copyright rmho via flickr, licensed under Creative Commons as far as is known, the child in the photograph is not on the autism spectrum.