I have found with my eldest that he finds great comfort in routines, in doing things in the same order each time, and in taking the same routes to and from places. In essence he finds comfort in things staying the same. Unfortunately life doesn’t stand still. Life and people won’t stay the same. Situations, events, seasons, time, everything changes.
He was 3 years old when I started to try and help him to understand this difficult concept. I had made him a picture chart/calendar that I would update each week. Most of it would stay the same to give him comfort and familiarity. The thing that I would change on a regular basis was the WAY that we would arrive or depart from his familiar activities.
For example, we would go to a place called Airzone 3-5 days a week as I did a great deal of his socialization and behavioral therapy with him there. Airzone was just over a kilometer from where we lived at the time. Which meant that there were several ways that we could walk to or from it on any given day. Additionally there was a bus we could take or we could take a taxi.
I knew how hard it was for him to accept any type of change in his daily routines, but I also knew that while I loved him with all of my heart I had to help him as gently and lovingly as possible to learn how to deal with changes. Both expected ones and unexpected ones. For if he stayed he did not learn to cope with changes, what would happen if he was on his way to work and a road on his usual route was closed? Would he be able to handle it? Would he end up calling his boss to say he couldn’t come in? Or would he be able to handle finding a different route to work that day?
Approximately half of the times we would come home from Airzone I would take him one specific way. It was his favorite way, he liked the things we’d see along those roads, he knew each of the houses and businesses we’d pass. The other half of the time I would take a deep mental breathe and deviate from our regular route. For countless times our deviations from the route he had picked as his favorite or preferred route were met with a full meltdown. He would be distraught for up to two hours, even after we’d arrived home and he could see that we’d managed to get home just fine taking a different path mattered not to him. He was completely overloaded by the change. While my heart ached I knew I had to do it.
I wouldn’t take him a different route to get there as I knew he couldn’t handle it, and our actual time at Airzone was far more than just playtime. But to come home, well he knew we were on our way home and he’d be completely okay about that until I turned down a different street or did not turn down one he was expecting me to. It was a good thing that I still had an umbrella stroller for him for after he was done playing as him being buckled in was a huge safety measure on my part. For I could not have carried him for just over a kilometer while he was he was in the midst of a full meltdown. And he had such difficulty with change at the time that he couldn’t have walked anywhere with me. He would cry and scream “This isn’t the right way, this isn’t the way” and while it hurt my heart greatly I knew it was important to help him learn to deal with changes. I would talk, and explain the entire way home that it was okay that he was upset, but that this was just a different way we could get to the same place.
Once we got home I would cuddle with him on the couch, tell him he was loved and safe and that it was okay he was upset, that we were home now just as he’d wanted, we’d just taken a different way to get there.
It took 7 months of doing this with him before he became okay with taking different ways home. Fast forward 5 years and I now have a son that is excited about random road trips, and looks forward to adventures where he’s not entirely certain where we’re even going. He still has some anxiety about it if it involves overnight, but if he knows he gets to come home for bed he’s all for day trips anywhere, and anyway to get there is totally fine with him.
Knowing that each of those heartbreaking trips taking all the different roads that lead to my home with him when he was younger have lead he and I to this level of comfort make them worth it, completely. I still do it randomly off and on to ensure there is no regression with his comfort in that type of change, and he’s fine each time. He’s got that much more freedom for soaring as an adult because I made sure he understood that all roads can lead to home.