Autistic anticipation

2013-03-11_19-27-58_197One of our son Joey’s great breakthroughs was gaining the ability to look ahead – to anticipate future changes to his daily patterns.2013-03-11_19-27-58_197.

We didn’t do anything special to make that happen. We were resigned to the idea that anything we did that changed his daily routine was going to get us beaten up or our property broken, because he couldn’t anticipate and simply reacted at the moment of change.

But one day, I can’t say I remember exactly when or all of the circumstances, we were trying to tell Joey about something that was coming up, and his brow furrowed and we could see the processing wheels turning. He got it.

Yes, he got it years after a typical kid would show the same skill, but he finally got anticipation. It was one of those blessings that most folks take for granted but for us felt like finding a million dollars.

His ability to anticipate has up- and downsides. Positively, he can be simultaneously motivated and patient. He’ll sit calmly by the door for hours if we tell him, “Later we will go to the hamburger restaurant.”

On the negative end, he can whine and protest for hours if the future holds something he’d rather not do. “After dinner you will have a bath” used to unleash a s**tstorm, although since puberty set in he’s been asking for baths. “After school we will go to the doctor” gets resistance, unless he’s sick and then he asks for the doctor by name.

Pictures have been a huge help in preparing him for the future. When he graduated from one school to the next, part of the transition was a field trip to the new campus, followed up with a supply of pictures of the new buildings, classroom and staff. Big changes like that are hard on Joey, but the schools have employed pictures and other methods to make his transitions gentler.

When it came time for him to leave the school setting and enter his community adult program, Melissa convinced the school district to send him for several weeks of half-days in the new program. We preceded this with a tour of the community facilities, pictures of the staff, and lots of calm verbal reminders. “Soon you will go to school in the morning, then to ‘work’ after lunch.” He gave us lots of brow furrowing, some emphatic “NO”s and episodes of physical tension – but the transition worked.

Right now, we are sending him off on his first overnights. The community program has respite nights available in group homes of the type that Joey will move into as an adult. He’s had one such night – he didn’t really know what was coming and he was grumpy with us after (although he was fine with the staff at the apartment… go figure.)

Now, he knows what’s up when we show him the picture of an apartment house and say, “You will be going to this house for dinner and to watch movies.” We’ll see how this goes – the next attempt is next week. Prayers and encouragement are appreciated as we anticipate with Joey.

Guess I have to end with something cheesy about “anticipation,” although you need to know that these perky little TV buggers are totally not autistic:

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