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.