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Making Routine Flexible b) Chris in the car

Because my parents live about an hour from each other, my nan in the middle and the general attitude in Cyprus that you can’t go anywhere without a car Chris spends a lot of his time in cars. He loves the journey, he always, always, sits in the front, he has complete control of the A/C and the radio. He likes the AC to always be on 2, and the volume to be on 20. He used to want it to be on higher but we’ve negotiated a lower volume so that people in the car can have conversations of their own, and also not go deaf.

I remember we used to have a remote for the radio in our old car (A REMOTE FOR A CAR) and my mum would have to lower the volume between songs. Needless to say, we never got away with it. This is another example of how incorporating something new/different (in this case volume) is more easily accepted when not forced, or done in a sly manner (like when i was 2-3 and my parents fed me fish and told me it was chicken). It’s better to approach it directly, explain the situation and be persistent and consistent with your choices. Eventually after negotiating a lot of volume numbers we settled on one that satisfied all passengers of the car. He used to pick the music, CD’s, and play each song at a different point in the journey. If we were delayed he would simply stop the CD and wait until we got to that specific place to start it up again. He loves music, he listens to it all day long. From Greek music to English, from the 60’s to the contemporary charts. He’s always loved music, I know because my mum has embarrassing videos of us dancing around in our house. I believe music helps them interact better, the sounds, the melody, that special song that makes you want to sing or dance along, it develops their senses and it makes them want to interact with people around them; or if not, at least they are interacting with the music itself. I would recommend incorporating music into their lives early on, have it in the background, make them move around with you during an up beat song, sing to them and accompany that with movement. A single song can make us smile or cry and our kinds aren’t different, they just need that push.

Another lovely thing about travelling with Chris is that you cannot, CAN NOT, sing in the car. Their sensors are bursting at that point and our off-key, often wrong sing-alongs are quickly squashed. This isn’t something he’s just picked up, he never liked us singing along to songs he was interested in, he’s enjoying the music so much that any attempt disturbs him.

If you see a kid somewhere shaking their heads, flapping their hands or jumping around, listen for music. That might be their way of dancing or expressing themselves, their expressions are so carefree and genuine. They don’t care if people are looking when thy’re dancing, or if their moves are out of date.

Educate yourself about Autism and join the dance.

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Making Routine Flexible a) Chris & the Airport

So, for the first part of the routine chapter I chose the airport.

1) Travelling: When we book tickets we inform him immediately. It’s incorporated in his schedule for the year; he is shown pictures and videos of the place so he knows what to expect. He used to be difficult to travel with but now, with the help of his schedule, he enjoys the process. He oversees my mums packing, queues, waits for luggage, leaves his seatbelt on through the flight; he handles flights better than we do! As he grew he became more flexible, so we don’t have to carry around a bag with all his food in it any more (as mentioned in Not everything is black or white). He’s been to  Sri Lanka enough times to know exactly what to expect and to even ask for activities we miss out on sometimes.

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2) Airport trips: One of his favourite things to do is picking up people form the airport or taking them there. We tell ourselves its because he misses us, but we all know its for the bake rolls. Because of his dietary restrictions he’s not allowed gluten (as discussed in Best food critic in town) but he loves bake rolls. My mum has  had a long-term agreement with him that he is only allowed to have them when he goes to the airport. So, it’s on his schedule and he reminds me every time we speak. He walks in, goes straight to the shop, gets his garlicky bake rolls and his lemon Ice Tea and sits outside arrivals waiting (usually for me). By the time I come out the is usually done, and we have our hugs and kisses. Sometimes, he might not be in the mood to but he will anyway because he knows by now that its expected of him.

I know the struggle that families go through to pull their kids out of their comfort zones, to never let them give up, to force them to try new things, and it is something we have done/are doing ourselves, but it might be better to incorporate those changes into their routine. This will make their transition from comfort zone to the ‘new’ a bit less daunting. Add one small new thing every week/month and gradually increase it. Don’t make it into a big deal, don’t put pressure when they refuse to do it the first few times. Be persistent, be consistent; they respond to routine, to repeated actions. So when you introduce a new thing every week it will become part of their general routine. So, one day a week they have in their schedules do something new with a family member; you’ll be surprised how easily they will accept it.

So! Next time you see a kid running around in an airport, a mum frantically running after it, a family with wayyy more bags than members, or a child that can’t seem to settle down on an airplane, be sympathetic, understanding, try and put yourself in their position. Learn about autism, help us make the world autism-friendly.