Making Change Common

Many individuals with autism have problems with change, whether unexpected changes in their daily routine or a significant shift in their life such as a family split or moving to a new school. Autism can also cause a person to be intolerant of wearing new shoes, sleeping on a new pillow, using a different type of soap or toothpaste, or eating a different brand of soup. Let us look at one strategy that can gradually help our friends with autism become more tolerant of change in their lives.

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Because of individual differences, it is impossible to develop one fool-proof strategy for increasing tolerance for change and for decreasing agitation or explosive outbursts in the face of change. But it is helpful to look at strategies that have worked for others people with autism. One such option to consider is that of making change common.

I noticed years ago that youngsters with autism in larger families seemed to be more flexible and more tolerant of change. Keep in mind that this observation was not based on scientific data, and that I certainly knew some children with large families who were, indeed, extraordinarily obsessed with routine and quite intolerant of even minor changes in the details of their daily lives. But, in general terms, growing up in a busy household seemed to make some individuals with autism more able to cope with unexpected events and sudden changes in schedule.

Over the years, some families and teachers have successfully instituted the “big family” strategy of intentionally making change a part of the daily routine for children, teens, and adults with autism. Every day, teachers and parents purposefully insert one or more unexpected change in schedule or a change in one or more aspects of daily life, e.g. a new snack or menu item at a meal, a new pair of socks or t-shirt, a new music CD while riding in the car, or a different type of shampoo.

TIP FOR THE DAY: We certainly want to respect the fact that autism causes intolerance for change for many individuals with autism, but we can sometimes help them gradually learn to cope if we make change part of their daily routine.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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