People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) like things to stay the same. And don’t I know it!

Michael’s diagnosis of Autism arrived shortly after his third birthday, but the signs were there shortly after birth. These included maniacal screaming fits at all times of the day and night, the obsessive systematic sorting of shoes and books (recorded on video if anyone needs verification), the lining up of tin cans, cars and trains, the absence of speech followed then by echolalia, the inability to wave or greet anyone, the spinning, the intense interest in fans, planes, wheels, water and light switches.

Another sign was the need for things to stay the same, including an intense dislike of any change to routines. I’ll give you an example which occurred when Michael was a toddler. I hate to admit it but I used to watch the soap opera Neighbours religiously. I have since ceased this irritating habit. Michael loved the theme song to Neighbours and when the song came on he would turn to the television, smiling broadly and sometimes clap his hands in glee.

The producers of Neighbours, in their wisdom, decided to modify the theme song. It was such a minor change that most people would not have noticed. But Michael noticed and he roared his displeasure, every night for at least a week. We were suitably amused by this display of loyalty to the original tune, completely oblivious to the underlying reason for his outrage.

Michael has always had a good ear for music and exceptional tastes that closely mirror my own. His little sister Tessa would disagree with that statement (see blog post on Bob Dylan). I am not a huge fan of rave music but I took a bit of liking to musician Fatboy Slim while undertaking research into Dance Parties for Queensland Health.  One day I made the mistake of playing the DJ’s album You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby in my car. Michael absolutely loved the song Funk Soul Brother. He insisted I play the tune in the car every trip for at least 6 months. Any refusal resulted in the volcanic eruption phenomenon.

Michael also insisted on wearing the same shirt every day to the AEIOU. It was a blue t-shirt with Nemo on the front. I would wash it every night to avoid the inevitable tantrum if it wasn’t available. It is very common for ASD children and adults to regularly wear the same type of clothes. The reasons are mainly to do with sensory/sensitivity issues (the need for soft well worn clothes that don’t feel itchy and scratchy), rigidity and the need for things to stay the same.

The need for sameness also impacts at the dinner table and many ASD children, including my son, have extreme rituals surrounding the types of food they will eat and it’s presentation. This can drive parents insane. I will discuss food in greater detail in further blogs.

Why the need for sameness?

I will end this blog with a quote from Sean Barron who has ASD:

I have no idea how many ways there are to deal with a level of fear so great that is hangs over you like a storm cloud. The three remedies I chose and that made the most sense to me in all areas of my life were repetition, repetition and repetition (Grandin and Barron 2005, p. 85)

Reference:

Grandin, T., and Barron, S. (2005) Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.

28 thoughts on “Desire for Sameness: The Autism Files

  1. The quote from Sean Barron moved me so much. I am so impressed your son noticed the change in the Neighbours theme tune. What an incredible ear he has!

  2. Thank you for sharing your blog with us all. My son has recently been diagnosed with autism at the age of 4. Your description of your precious son is nearly the mirror image of my boy. It wasn’t until he had been diagnosed did i still back and look at all the things he did as a baby was actually the signs of autism.

    Thank you once again It was such a please to read. xox

    1. Yes, as a first time parent I didn’t have a clue that his behaviours weren’t ‘normal’ – looking back it was much clearer. Though I did wonder why having a baby was so difficult (I just assumed all babies were that difficult). Michael is doing really well now – mainstream school,sociable, lovely kid – better behaved than his sister – ha,ha.

  3. I looked up the lyrics to Funk Soul Brother. They are certainly repetitious, two lines and the word ‘now’repeated thirty or forty times. Shopping for clothes is an intensly horrible experience and Einstein had a closet full of the same outfits, I think. Your blog is not repetitious, it is fascinating.

    1. Not liking shopping for clothes is a peculiarly male thing I think! Most people do have their favourite clothes that they get into at home to feel comfy in. I love Funk Soul Brother – just got a bit sick of playing it over and over again.

  4. Another insightful post Gabe. There is definitely something soothing about repetition… everyone, whether they know it or not, loves a routine!

    1. This is true. As usual with autism the behaviours are those that we all engage in – it is the degree and extent that makes the behaviours on the edge of the bell curve of normality. I don’t have many routines and tend to resist them when they are imposed on me but I am repetitive with things like drinking coffee and going on the internet – ha,ha.

  5. It’s interesting what autism can teach us about how our own social lives work…it’s like poeple with autism have a window into the underlying mechanics of how it all works, stuff that we, most of us, walk around oblivious to.

    1. Yes I agree. They are absorbing so much more stuff then we do (the stuff we selectively ignore) and respond in the most appropriate way for that experience. Humans and other animals when placed under great stress will always resort to repetitive behaviours (eg, pacing, hand wringing, worry beads!) – it is a very effective stress reducer. It is also like those zoo animals, such as elephants, who have stereotyped behaviours because their enclosures are too small.

  6. Gabrielle,

    Thanks so much again for sharing this with us. I really enjoy reading about your wonderful boy. It gives me so much insight into the world of autism. Our boys are amazing arent they? I am blown away that Michael noticed the change in the Neighbours theme…wow!! What a clever boy!

  7. Some days, I would like to let go my frustrations in a very demonstrative and noisy way…
    always interesting to read you.

  8. I love that Michael was so attached to the shirt I bought him for Christmas one time. I hate it when one of my favorite shirts dies or just fades away. It’s hard to buy new clothes cause there’s nothing like the old ones – aaaah! Thanks for your stories.

    1. I forgot you bought it for him. I asked him yesterday if he remembered the shirt and he said yes. I thought that was amazing since it was when he was 3 and he said ‘but it’s in every photo I’m it’. Which is just about right. I hate when my favourite shirts die!

  9. Yes I see the snow…but having to cope with the real one I never felt like having it in my blog, enjoy this virtual one.

    1. I love writing about him. It is great he has an ear for music. He is a bit funny with instruments, however, because he is wanting to be really good straight away (perfectionist)and gets really cranky when it’s difficult, and just gives up. Thanks TL.

  10. Hello Gabrielle. Am not quite sure if this ia good place to post this or not..but..it is about autism and this seems to be your most recent post on the ‘subject’. I recently saw the movie “the horseboy” based on a family’s efforts to deal with their son’s autism. It was very powerful and informative about what parents experience and the efforts they will make–however unconventional–in order to heal their children. Are you aware of the film? Would love to know what you think of it.
    All the best to you and yours.

    1. This is as good a place as any to post. I haven’t yet seen the movie but read about the family while they were making it. I definitely want to see it. There’s a few good movies made in the last couple of years about autism/aspergers. I think it is one of the most effective ways (if done properly) of raising awareness and educating people about ASD. Thanks for posting 47whitebuffalo.

      1. Greetings Gabrielle. If/when you see the film, please post a link at mi casa to your post about it here. The more I think about the film–and the form of ‘treatment’ sought, the more I contemplate just how ‘we’ deal with all sorts of related issues–and just how indigenous peoples’ perspectives can help.
        shanti

        1. I’ll do that 47whitebuffalo. It is very interesting looking at autism from an anthropological perspective; different cultures certainly look at it differently. Some cultures revere people with autism and the people with autism don’t have to many problems; in other cultures it is perceived as shameful and hidden away and the person with autism suffers greatly. There is a book ‘Isabel’s world’ written by anthropoligist Roy Grinker which looks across cultures – it’s fascinating. He doesn’t believe there is an epidemic, however, so I don’t agree with all he says on the subject.

          1. Hi again Gabrielle. I wouldn’t call the viewpoint ‘anthropological’ in the movie. It’s more like a jump at a slice of hope offered by another way of dealing/valuing people–including those who aren’t ‘normal’. When this family travels to Mongolia to find a healing via shamans–well–the objective lens of anthropology just cannot due justice to such a course of action. To me it’s more a willingness to take a risk, a leap of faith in an unknown system that just might offer something vialble that ‘modern medicine’ with all its drugs and machine toys can’t even begin to imagine.
            Ha–I can hardly believe this is still simmering in my mind for this long.
            shanti om

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