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The Best Laid Plans

August 27, 2013 - Colleen Carpenter
When you have a child on the autism spectrum, you make every effort to prepare said child for their day. It doesn't matter if the child is 3 or 33, has high functioning autism or Rett Syndrome. You try every day to pep talk your child into knowing their day in order to prevent stress, anxiety or a meltdown. I will openly admit that ALL parents would let their child know if someone different is picking them up from school or if their day is going to somehow be disrupted by a significant change. But as the momma of a child on the spectrum, I know that I have to tell Lucas what his day will be, remind him, enforce it and ask him to repeat it back to me. This may seem like overkill, but when a new pair of shoes or the "wrong" pair of socks starts your day off in a manner that makes you want to crawl directly back into bed, cover your head and silence for phone until 3:30, you tell your child everything he will be facing to avoid a meltdown. And it is with that mindset that I prepped the 7 year old Lucas for his transition to a general ed (read - not a special ed) bus for his transportation home.

I really thought I'd done a stellar job. Prior to the first day of school we talked about the new bus number, the new driver, new kids, new bus aide and that he'd be getting home later. I'd told him. We'd talked about it. He'd recited it back to me. The first day of school is stressful enough and so full of unknowns that I really thought I'd so thoroughly prepared him, there was no way he'd get off that bus with anything but a smile and enthusiasm.

Reality check. The bus pulled up and the look on Lucas' face clearly told me something was very wrong. While he wasn't in full-on-meltdown-mode, he was anxious and near tears. I asked him several times what was wrong and he just stammered and sighed. After a big hug and encouragement, he confessed his problem. THIS bus didn't take the "right" route home. For a child on the spectrum, typically the first way something is done is the "right" way and will be the way they always want it done. It could be anything from a cup used for milk and one used for water to the shoes worn on a specific day of the week. In all my prepping, I didn't think to tell him that his new afternoon bus would take a different route from school to home, but it would still get him home.

Lucas said to me, "Mom, they wouldn't listen to me. They didn't turn where I told them! They didn't know how to get home!" His bus ride home was extremely stressful and yes, I do partly blame myself. I try to think of everything but do realize that I'm human. Nobody wants their child to be anxious because of something which could have been avoided, but it happens. So as much as we plan and as much as we try to predict every "could be" scenario, there are going to be times when things just change.

He's been on the bus four days now and he's accepted that his afternoon bus takes a different route home, but it will still get him home. He's always going to be a child who needs consistency and routine. And looking back, if this had been a year ago, my young man wouldn't have walked off that bus looking nervous. He would have been carried off in a crying fit. We can't prepare for everything, but I will still make every effort to explain stressful situations ahead of time.

Sometimes, as parents, we have to help our kids through the reaction and stress rather than preventing the stress. And that's a hard lesson for this momma to learn. I mean really, who LIKES unexpected changes in routine? Oh well, here's to learning about flexibility!


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