Flexibility doesn’t come naturally for all of us but with a little planning, you can win at being flexible.
What happens when you have to change plans mid stream? Changing course midway for someone with autism isn’t really a thing. Rather than being flexible, you have to quickly create a new plan for the unexpected. Flexible Plan might sound like an oxymoron but it tricks not only my son’s brain, but mine, into thinking that this was the plan all along.
Case in point — We showed up at Special Olympics on a Saturday morning ready to play team skills basketball.
It was raining and rain is not sensory friendly. Henry generally refuses to go out in the rain, so getting there was a challenge. Apparently, it was too much of a challenge for several of the other team members who didn’t show and we had to forfeit our game.
There’s always a possibility that Henry might be flexible, so it’s best to give him that opportunity. I started by letting him know: The team isn’t coming. We’re not going to be able to play today.
His face fell. Uh Oh. It meant more to him that I thought it did. He sat down in the EMT’s fold-out chair and said, “I’m not going.” Meltdown alert.
It was time to be find a version of flexible that avoids a meltdown. I was imagining my almost 6 foot, 200-something pound then 22-year-old son laying on the floor sobbing or maybe hunkering down in the chair and not moving for hours.
I’m not the most flexible person in the world either. I like A PLAN. I like MY PLAN even better. I’ve learned that to be flexible, it helps to envision a new plan. Henry can read panic. When I get attached to the things of the old plan and my emotional energy rises with the slightest hint of panic, Henry reads that energy and he gets really nervous. Things go off the rails pretty quickly from there.
Step one of the new plan — deep breath for me.
Step two of the new plan — limit the options. When I offer a bunch of things that we maybe could do, that’s just as overwhelming. Be decisive. Come up with two options only.
Step three of the new plan — acknowledge where we are at. We have been coming to this exact gym on some Saturday morning in December for over 10 years to play this game. “I’m disappointed,” I said. “It’s a bummer.” Giving context to the level of appropriate emotion helps everyone involved.
Step four of the new plan — do something that is satisfying. Henry’s main purpose at Special Olympics isn’t sports. While he’s improved over the years, and making a basket does happen, he’s really there to connect with the crowd. At every event, moments before the officials take over, Henry heads to the court and introduces himself, the teams, and his imaginary band, band leader, and announcer. The usual. Well, our usual.
To satisfy his purpose there I asked one of the high school volunteers if he could shoot some baskets. He did. Then I told him if he wanted to get the crowd to cheer, now was the time. He took to the floor and greeted the crowd, albeit more subdued than usual. With his purpose for being at the gym was fulfilled, though not in the way we originally planned, we could then discuss leaving.
Final step — offer a treat attached to the moving on step. I asked him if he was ready to go to Chik-fil-a and then to Mimi’s house. Food usually works. He said yes, managed to make it to the car under an umbrella without incident, put his seat belt on and proclaimed, “Special Olympics. I won!”
Yes, you won!
Flexibility isn’t my favorite either. In fact, I might hate it. But dropping into a chair and refusing to move doesn’t really work either. So with a little planning, we can both win at being flexible.
Categories: Alice's Voice