Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dealing with Change

A common characteristic used to describe people with autism is that they possess an insistence on sameness and a resistance to change. In fact, if one Googles “resistance to change autism” (as I did out of curiosity), over one million results can be found. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, Alex is remarkably flexible about change and spontaneity. While he enjoys the predictability of some routines, he is also willing to try new things, even on the spur of the moment. However, I, who am not on the autism spectrum, resist change mightily and need time to adjust and plan before I can jump into something new. This week I was reminded of the difference between Alex and me in this respect.

For the past year, Alex has been working with a behavioral therapist who comes to our house each week for an hour. Through a variety of activities, the therapist addresses Alex’s issues, such as his anxiety and impulse control, and also works with him on social skills that autism impairs, such as respecting personal space and making conversation. We have been pleased with the progress we have seen Alex make as he has learned some calming techniques, self-control, and interpersonal skills. Moreover, he looks forward to these weekly sessions and considers his therapist his friend.

When we began behavioral therapy a year ago, he was first assigned a therapist who interacted quite well with him. However, in March, we found out she was moving out of state because her husband had taken a new job. She assured us that she would help Alex make the transition smoothly by bringing his new therapist to shadow a few of their sessions so that he could meet her and so that she could learn the routines they had established. As promised, the transition period gave Alex and his new therapist time to get to know one another and adjust nicely before she took over the therapy sessions on her own.

Although I was a bit concerned about how Alex would adapt to the new therapist, he clearly embraced the change immediately and eagerly looked forward to working with her. Her kindness, enthusiasm, and humor endeared her to him and us right away, and we felt blessed that she had been chosen to work with him. In fact, I commented that she was a gift from God because she had come to us all the way from Turkey. Recently, we learned that she had come to the United States to get her master’s degree and had planned to return to her home country, but she met the man who was to become her husband, an American from this area, and decided to complete her doctoral degree and live here permanently. For all those things to fall into place so that she could work with Alex, a divine plan had to be in order.

Listening to their therapy sessions from the next room, I not only appreciated that she made Alex accountable for his behavior and set reasonable expectations for him, but that she also praised him freely, often telling him in her delightful Turkish accent, “Alex, you are so smart and funny.” Anyone who is kind to Alex holds a special place in my heart, after all. When she took a trip back to Turkey to visit her family this summer, she excitedly told him about her experience of seeing turtles coming from the Mediterranean Sea to lay their eggs in the sand, knowing that Alex has a special interest in turtles. She even brought him a souvenir from this trip, a small realistic-looking turtle that she said made her think of him while she was on vacation. Of course, he was pleased that she brought him a gift, but he was even more pleased to see her after she returned from her trip.

This week, we found out that Alex’s beloved therapist has been promoted to a supervisory position and will only be working with him for a few more weeks to help him transition to a new therapist. I have no doubt that my face clearly registered the deep disappointment I felt when she told me that she would be no longer be working with Alex once she begins her new job. While I’m pleased that her excellence has been rewarded with a promotion and know that she will do a wonderful job in that capacity, I’m sad to lose her as Alex’s therapist and will miss her weekly visits.

Upon meeting his new therapist, who will be observing sessions during the transition stage, Alex seemed quite receptive to her, smiling at her often and asking her his usual litany of questions to learn more about her, including how tall she is and how many teeth she has. Apparently his current therapist had prepared her for this interrogation, as she laughed and willingly provided Alex the statistics that he needs to quantify her in his mathematical mind. While I’m mourning the loss of his current therapist, Alex is looking forward to getting to know someone new, even though I’m sure he will miss seeing his old friend, too. As we prepare for another change, I remember that God knows what Alex needs even more than I think I do, and I’m certain that He has allowed this change of therapists for a good reason. With that in mind and with Alex’s example of flexibility in spite of his autism, I look forward to what his new therapist will do to help him learn and grow to become the best that he can be.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19


K. C. Wells said...

I know how much you like his current therapist. I'm sure that the next one will bring with her exactly what Alex needs.

Tiara said...


Pam Byrne said...

Hi K.C.,
As much as we miss his old therapist, he has adapted beautifully with his new therapist. You are right--she has exactly what Alex needs now. I believe that each one of them was hand-picked by God for what he needed at the time. This one was formerly a kindergarten teacher, so she has the patience and organization he needs, plus she's fun. :) Thanks for your note--great to hear from you.