Flexibility is the quality of bending without being easily broken. Our Brecksville ABA therapists know that for kids on the autism spectrum, being emotionally flexible is an incredibly difficult – but critical – skill for success.
It’s not just kids with autism. Flexibility doesn’t come naturally for lots of people. Many of us are creatures of habit. Flexibility is something that must be learned. But it can be much harder for those on the spectrum to master this. In fact, autism is defined as being characterized by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. It’s part of the diagnostic criteria for autism, and it’s manifested with insistence on inflexible adherence to routines, sameness, and ritualistic patterns of verbal/nonverbal behavior. Even the smallest changes can trigger a meltdown.
But why is this so important? Because change is a part of life. Realistically, no one can indefinitely eat the exact same thing, watch the exact same show, or be in the exact same place with the exact same people all day every day. And to whatever extent you may be able to help ensure continuity of certain patterns or routines, our ABA therapists recognize that helping kids on the spectrum learn to adjust to change will ultimately lead to them being happier, healthier, and more independent.
How Do Brecksville ABA Therapists Teach Flexibility?
Because rigidity is a characteristic of autism, intervening and treating it must be done very carefully. We’re not looking here to turn an inflexible person into a flexible one. What we want is to help each child learn to better adapt to a world that is ever-changing. The world is never going to be constant. There will be things outside of their control, and it’s important that they learn to cope when that happens.
Unlike many other life skills, flexibility is a bit more of an abstract concept. As such, it can be a bit tougher to teach. Our ABA therapy team focuses on stretching their tolerance to routine changes and then providing consistent, positive reinforcement where see it.
For instance, a child may love playing a certain game at therapy. We might start with testing their insistence to always play as the same game piece. Anytime they show increased flexibility, we reward that positively. We might eventually move to playing a different game altogether. The goal is for the child to ultimately adjust more easily (and without challenging behaviors) to unexpected changes in their routine. They can maintain a sense of assertiveness about what they like or what they want while still learning to calmly accept other changes. In other words: Greater flexibility.
Our ABA team also works with many of our clients in the real world, to teach them flexibility strategies to better tolerate change where they are most likely to encounter it.
It’s important that we’re not just tearing them away from rituals and patterns. We are first looking at behaviors we want to replace. That often means early on teaching them to request what they want, to wait for what they want, to self-manage big emotions (namely, anger and disappointment) and to problem solve. We do all this by intentionally, systematically introducing change in ways that are controlled – and then teaching them these skills one by one over time.
It’s important that when they are triggered, that we teach them a workable “plan of action.” This is going to highly depend on the individual, but the gist is to empathize (this is important) and then give them tools to help them de-escalate. This could be deep breathing, it could be squeezing a stress ball, it could taking a break. It’s important when we’re teaching flexibility to remind them that even when situations do shift unexpectedly, there are still things that are unchanged or that they can control. Empowering them to focus on those can go a long way toward improving flexibility in tolerating the larger changes occurring.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, alternative schooling, virtual therapy and education, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
More Blog Entries:
ABA Therapists: Helping Your Child With Autism Transition Back-to-School, Aug. 12, 2021, Brecksville ABA Therapists Blog