Asperger's Syndrome In Children – The Importance Of Routine to Avoid Meltdowns

The brain of a child (or an adult for that matter) with Asperger's syndrome is a complicated, sometimes mysterious thing. It works in ways that are often difficult to figure out. Why does your child have a tantrum when they can't find their shoes? Why does that employee with Asperger's never understand what I'm saying? What goes on in their head to make them seemingly over-react to so many situations?

One thing that isn't difficult to figure out, though, is that a person with Asperger's syndrome has a need for routine. It may seem bizarre at first, to the average person, but if you stop to think a little bit about the way the Asperger's brain works, you'll find that it actually makes sense after all. That doesn't mean that people with Asperger's syndrome shouldn't try to learn how to be flexible when necessary, but you should try to create a stable routine whenever possible for a person with Asperger's.

Why does a person with Asperger's need routine?

The world of a child, teenager or adult with Asperger's is full of lots of uncertainty and fear. This may be because of their problems generalizing specific events to more general events. For example, if they do well in something one time, in one specific way, they may fail to generalize that to other, similar situations and believe that they can also handle those situations. There is a continual, ever changing parade of variables that keep the person with Asperger's in a state of anxiety.

Weak Central Coherence

This is often called "weak central coherence." In other words, people with Asperger's have trouble, as the metaphor goes, "seeing the forest for the trees." They get so focused on the details of each event that they are unable to see it globally, or see the big picture — they lack perspective.

Since details are so overwhelmingly obvious to them, they get distressed when small details are changed. Because of the way they process information and understand the world, it changes their whole meaning and understanding of the world.

As a result, routine becomes increasingly important to the Asperger's child and adult. The more they can do everything in exactly the same way every day, the more their experience of the world will remain the same — and the more stable their mood and level of anxiety will remain.

It's almost like, for the typical person, if you woke up one day and everyone around you was speaking French, and you had to figure out what they meant. Just as you mastered that, you wake up the next day and everyone is speaking German. The third day, Italian. While this is an extreme example, and not completely analogous, the point remains.

Re-arranging Mental Maps

People with Asperger's constantly have to re-arrange and change their mental map of the world. The average person's mental map is loose enough and general enough to encompass most of the events that go on in their day without too much distress. But due to this theory of weak central coherence, the mental map of a person with Asperger's is so detail bound that it is constantly changing — and that is exhausting and frightening. It feels like the earth is moving under you…several times a day.

Sense of Stability

Where do you get your overall sense of stability? The sense that tells you that you will be okay even if things go wrong a little bit? For most people, they have this sense inside of them. It provides a buffer to the constant change and chaos of the outside world.

But for most people with autism, they don't have that sense. Their sense of well-being…or lack thereof…comes almost solely from the environment around them. Remember, people with autism also have sensory issues that make them very sensitive to their environment. So if their environment is comfortable and not overwhelming, and all of their other needs are being reasonably met, then they are probably going to be doing pretty well.

But the second you make the environment uncomfortable — start playing some loud music, bring in someone with perfume, put scratchy clothes on them, whatever it may be — that all comes crashing down. Warning bells go off in the brain, and their world is thrown into a state of chaos. Remember, they don't have the global thinking to realize that it will end soon, and they will be okay again. They just know that it feels like the world is ending, because they feel so bad NOW.

So what does this all mean?

Because of the way they process the world, people with autism and Asperger's crave similarity and routine. This makes their world feel much safer and calmer. You may wonder why they over-react when you change some seemingly small detail of their routine, or make them do something on the spur of the moment; you may think their distress is exaggerated, but it is not. It all comes down to a difference in the way that the brain of a child or adult with Asperger's syndrome processes information.

And while this may seem overwhelming to both you and your Asperger's loved one, there is information available to help. To find information to help both children and adults with Asperger's syndrome see our solutions page. Also ensure you sign up for the FREE  Asperger's Syndrome Newsletter to gain additional information to help your loved one be happy and succeed in life.

11 Responses to Asperger’s Syndrome In Children – Avoiding Meltdowns And The Importance Of Routine

  1. Patti says:

    My Grandson has been diagnosed with aspergers. All he wants to talk about, or cares about is technology. Computers, building or taking apart anything. He acts out in the Doctors office, school and everywhere. the school did an IEP, but they are only doing one hour twice a week of one to one, and I think he needs more because the teacher keeps informing my Daughter that he is acting out worse in class. I don’t think the teachers understand aspergers! My Daughter has a very hard time with any type of discipline or routine because her Husband has the same problems, but will not seek help. He just makes excuses, or holds him until he calms down. Most of the time my Grandson is very upset with his Dad, or lashes out by kicking or telling his Dad to leave him alone. We were hoping that Dad would go for help now that we have Grandson diagnosed, but he won’t.When he is at my house (Grandparents) he is very good. He goes to bed with no problem, eats, puts his plate in the sink, a listens, probably because it is way more routine. Not sure what to do

  2. Deanna Kuhn says:

    My 4 year old grandson shows many of the signs and is having trouble in his daycare of establishing and keeping freinds. He is well liked but many times pushes away his friends. Time alone at the secluded beach with me seems to be so calming and peaceful just playing in the sand and waves.

  3. Dana Rodriguez says:

    Meltdowns in the classroom and cafeteria usually in the morning.How can she ease into the school routine? Also her teacher believes this is a discipline issue, displaying very little understanding.

  4. Tina Hines says:

    I teach preschool and have a child with aspurgers sydnrom. He has fits of screaming and wanting to run away. I wont to learn how to make him a less stresed and a happy child.

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      My basic guide, The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide is an excellent source for understanding children with Asperger’s syndrome and high functioning autism. Basically, most of these children with autism get overwhelmed very easily. They are hypersensitive to their environment. Sounds, smells, touch…all can send them into a meltdown. They struggle to maintain some type of control over their lives. The meltdowns you mention are very typical. Does this child have an official diagnosis of autism or Asperger’s syndrome? Does he have an IEP? That can be done through the public school system even if the child is in preschool. Do the parents realize their child has these problems? It is critical to understand what is causing the
      meltdowns before you can prevent them.

      • Robin says:

        My 7th grandchild is 19 months old and I think he may have autisim or aspergers, I have not been able to tell my daughter for fear that she may get mad and think I am compairing him to the other grand babies. I know that he displays many of the autism signs & I just want to try to make “Him” as comfortable & happy as posible. I also know that this is not done in the typical way I would with the other children.Please help with any info you could offer. Thank you so much, Loving concerned Nana

      • Marianne Bernaldo says:

        Hi Robin,

        You are definitely in a tough position right now as I’m sure you’re daughter does not want to even entertain the idea of her child having Autism. But if you do notice some developmental delays, the first step is to ask your daughter if she has a good pediatrician who is regularly checking up on her son. The pediatrician is the first professional who sees infants and their developmental milestones. The pediatrician would make a recommendation if he/she notes some developmental delays and characteristics of Autism. I hope this helps.

  5. Miquel says:

    I was trying to find out why a friends daughter was so different. While reading a few articles Asbergars began to creep in.. Soon it showed signs of my behavior. I also have a twin separated at birth,then it all came together,specifically problems with autistic twins. However aspergars was more reals vent than autistiism. I hope your news letter may open a few window.

  6. audra whorton says:

    hi im a mother witha son that i think has aspergers and my best friend has a 18 yr old daughter that just go diog with it and we are looking for help so if i could get the newsletter on paper as she does not have email that would be great.

    • Craig Kendall says:

      Unfortunately, the newsletter is not available on paper. But you can print it out and give it to your friend.

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