photo by Gabrielle Bryden
photo by Gabrielle Bryden

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) like things to stay the same.

And don’t I know it!

Our son’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 he 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. Our son 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 our son noticed and 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.

Our son has always had a good ear for music and exceptional tastes that closely mirror my own. His little sister 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. Our son 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.

Our son 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.

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4 thoughts on “Desire for Sameness (The Autism Files)

  1. It’s unAustralian to not to watch Neighbours, isn’t it? 🙂

    It must be so frightening to live in a world where seemingly small changes in order create such terror. From what you’ve posted here about Michael, it seems that he fares better these days with such changes; e.g. going on an away school trip. He must have learnt some really useful strategies to deal with these terrors himself.

    1. It is hard to know what they are experiencing bb but I think it is much harder when they are really young and everything is very confusing – he is doing well now, but things are still confusing for him I think (actually he is home this week because the school camp is to much for him to cope with – an outward bound type camp with lots of challenges).

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