Saturday, January 26, 2013

Push Kids with Autism Out of Their Comfort Zone. Push Until Hit or Bit!

His First Win! I was too excited to hold the camera still.
Look what his comfort zone includes now!
Push Them Out of Their Comfort Zone. Push Until You are Hit or Bit!

That was the philosophy of a psychologist from Bittersweet Farms, a residential and vocational training program serving adults with autism in Northwest Ohio.  My husband and I attended the NW Ohio Autism Summit in Bowling Green, Ohio just months after our son was diagnosed with autism.  It was during this conference that we heard this advice.

"Until hit or bit" sounds harsh at first.  It sounds cruel.  As he talked, it started to make sense and be the only rational way that any of us grow.  Bittersweet Farms helps the clients progress by challenging them to try new things.  The challenges need to be achievable but none the less challenging.  They need to be pushed out of their comfort zone.  

They really don't want to be "hit or bit".  It is just a way of saying that unless people are pushed to do things that they don't want to do and to try new things, progress will never be made.  People with autism generally do not seek out new experiences or attempt new activities unless pushed to do so.  It is our role as parents, teachers, therapists and counselors to push them.

"Until hit or bit" was a phrase that ran through my mind often during those first, rough years.  It gave me the courage to push Gabe out of his comfort zone.  Each time I met with resistance, I knew it was perfectly normal and good.  It meant that I was challenging him to grow.  Each time it expanded his comfort zone just a little bit.  Now his comfort zone is huge and encompasses activities I never imaged such as wrestling.  The child who could not stand to be touched is now a wrestler.

 Chaos = Growth

Continually pushing for improvement is not easy.  It made life chaotic and noisy.  Whenever the house was quiet for too long, I knew that a challenge was needed.  Gabe needed to be pulled away from his trains or the sandbox or the sink and into another activity.  Yes, he was happy in the sandbox and I did let him enjoy it but not for hours and hours.  He would do the same activity all day if left to his own devices.  

Gabe's comfort zone was very small as a preschool child.  Routine was very important to him.  The world is always routine and he needed to learn to adapt to the unexpected.  I develop a habit of purposefully changing things.  I moved furniture.  I changed the order of bedtime routines.  We did all the same things but not always in the same way or in the same place.  I called it "Same, Yet Different."   This is not easy for me to do.  I like routine also.  Routine is comforting and easy.  Change and forcing change is uncomfortable.  

The rewards of using this philosophy?  Gabe's teachers no longer complain that Gabe doesn't transition well and has trouble with any change in the day.  Substitute teacher?  Two hour delay or early release?   No problem!  I find I still need to practice this with him.  Last week his younger brother wanted to be dropped off at school first, a definite deviation from our routine.  Gabe fussed.  I wasn't going to drop the little one off that early but since Gabe fussed about the change in routine, I did.  On the trip from the elementary school to the high school we talked about flexibility in routines.  Now Gabe can rationally discuss and understand my methods.

What is your "comfort zone"?  

This advice does not just apply to people with autism or some other sort of disability.  It applies to all of us.  Trying new things goes against human nature.  We are creatures of habit.  Traditions are so strong and pop up so rapidly because we like routines.  We like knowing what to expect.  Change and the unknown scares us.  Everyone of us!

As a parent, I have had conflicts with schools about my children both typically developing and disabled.  I have been told many times not to push the issue because nothing will change.  It will only cause problems.  The problems already existed.  I will push people out of their comfort zones to make the world a better place for my child and all children. It would be easier to just "go with the flow" but no change will ever occur that way.   If I am "hit or bit" in the process, so be it. Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store