Everyone knows change, however small, can be hard for autistic people. But what a lot of people don’t think about when contemplating change is the changes that can take place in one room. This can be something as small as an item not being put back quite right after cleaning. Things that might not even be noticed by someone without autism, but they can have a real impact on autistic people. I found things such as a lamp being moved from one place to another very hard to deal with when I was younger.
Furniture being rearranged might not sound like a big deal, but to someone with autism it can be. If they are used to the room being a certain way then seeing it all changed around can throw them. For me I know where my chair is, and what view of the TV I get from it, how easy it is to use my shelves, and things like that. So just that one small change gives me a whole lot of new things to get used to.
A new piece of furniture being added can have the same impact. Add to this the fact that it might mean an old piece is thrown out, then you can see why it’s so much for someone with autism to get used to. It’s not to say they won’t like the new furniture, but it changes the look of the room, and is therefore something they need time to adjust to.
For me – and I am sure a lot of other autistic people – the big one is having my own things moved, and then put back in the wrong place. But for me the wrong place could just be a few inches to one side. It’s something other people might not even notice, but to me it is a huge thing. When I was younger I would have meltdowns if my Mum put something of mine back in a slightly different place after cleaning. Even now I have to admit I would not be too happy about it!
I am older now, and I do find some change easier to deal with, for example changing a room around. In fact I am always changing things around in my own room. But I still find it hard to have my belongings touched or moved. I like to put DVD’S and books on the arm of my chair, and I find it hard when someone else moves them even if it is just to clean. I won’t have a meltdown, but I will get annoyed and tell them not to do it again.
I think most of this stems from having a good eye for detail. I and many other autistic people can pick up on where a book was on the shelf, and the fact that it has now changed places. We know if our view of the TV is off as someone has not quite put it back right after cleaning behind it. And being able to notice this can make things hard. There is also the need to control our environment that a lot of autistic people have. We experience this as we often find ourselves at a loss with the world, and being able to control some part of it – even if it is just a room, or our own belongings in that room – can help. When we see that changed we feel a loss of control.
Change of this kind cannot be avoided; there is no way around that. But there are ways to help. One is a level of respect from family. Moving the belongings of someone who is autistic can have a very real impact on them; there are genuine reasons why they have those items where they are, and why they would be upset if someone moved them. Try talking to the autistic person, or at least give fair warning before you move stuff. And as always with autism, planning can be key; talking about what is going to change in a room, how and when. This won’t solve all the issue but it will help.
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