Monday, October 27, 2008

Why Autistic Kids Have Meltdowns When You Drive a Different Way in the Car - One Aspie's Theory

Well, after reading that exceptionally long blog post title, you're probably wondering: Yes, AspieMama, why do kids with autism have meltdowns when you drive a different way in the car? I have never experienced this personally, but I've heard from some parents of children with Autism that it does happen with some kids.

I suppose that I can't speak for everyone, but here's a story and my theory. My husband likes to go places and do things out of the house often, even if it's just going to the mall to walk around. The problem is, he never really knows where he wants to go, just that it's somewhere! So, we agree on a tentative plan, and pile the family up in the car and start driving.

At this point, I'm already a little nervous because I like to have a plan on where we're going, what we'll be doing, how long it will take, etc. After all, I need to know what to wear, what shoes to put on (determined by how much walking will be involved), how many bottles to bring for the baby, etc. My husband just thinks I worry too much.

Well, as I said, we agree on a tentative plan on where we're going. So, a few days ago, my husband suddenly takes a different highway exit than the one for the place I thought we we're going. I immediately felt a panic come over me. My mind was racing, "Where are we going?" "I thought we were going to __________." "What's going on?" I did not have a meltdown, but these thoughts gave me an idea.

What if kids with Autism feel the same way? What if they thought they were going one place, and even if they were still going there, if you took a different route they might not realize that. What if they were scared like I was, but didn't have the verbal skills to tell you that? This may already be common knowledge to parents of autistic kids, but I just thought I'd share, and ask for your opinions.

I'm not sure what the solution is. Maybe having a picture schedule in the car of the places you're going? I'd love to hear your opinions about this as well.

Have a super week,



Anonymous said...

While I am not sure if it generalizes across the population (icky study speak lol) I am sure it applies for more than just you!

Fear of the unknown.


My Autism Insights said...

I think my son would get anxious about getting lost. Heaven help us if we made a wrong turn and had to double back. You might be on to something.

Maddy said...

That's one theory and I'm in favour of it.

An additional theory that applies to one of my sons is that he has a compass or a GPS or some other gizmo in his head which means that he knows the route to everywhere and therefore can instantly tell if I go the wrong way. As I frequently go the wrong way, this is a cause of major frustration for him. Now If I could only 'train' him to say 'next right mother dearest' journeys would be faster, sweeter and all round far less stressful. [probably save a bit of gas too!]
Best wishes

geosaru said...

One time a few months ago, my mom and I had just gotten a smoothie and a coffee, and I thought the plan was to go home, then go to the next place. Except, then we turned on the freeway!

I had a series of alternating meltdown-shutdowns lasting about an hour-and-a-half, between screaming and banging my head and being frozen still. She wouldn't change her plans at the outset, and it turned out we were about forty minutes early for the function.

mumkeepingsane said...

My son used to have dificulty with this but not anymore. I'm not sure what changed for him but I suspect it might be he's started to trust me.

I'm pretty sure the meltdowns before were because he really thought I was taking him somewhere he wasn't expecting to go, and he was afraid. Although sometimes he would see something out the window and want to "go that way" but I wouldn't change my route. That upset him as well.

Myself, I absolutely need to know where we're going, how we're getting there, when, etc.

Chaoticidealism said...

Another possibility is that one way is much more agreeable than another way.

I take an "assisted transport" bus to college; in the morning, the ride is almost enjoyable because the driver uses the highways and there aren't a lot of turns or bumps. In the afternoon, the driver uses the back roads, and the bumps and turns leave me feeling sick, exhausted, anxious, and generally miserable by the time I get home. Riding the bus for an hour is harder than being at college for eight.

The afternoon driver uses the back roads because that route is five minutes quicker than highway traffic; but I would much, much rather have five minutes more on the highway than five less on the back roads. They don't change things when a passenger asks, though. (And it doesn't help that I'm always the last one dropped off, either.)

Lion Heart said...

From experience of our son those on the spectrum feel bombarded with new information every second of the day that those not on the spectrum take for granted and mostly ignore.

Imagine you were taken to an unknown town several hundred miles away, via no major roads, with no map or GPS and told you would have to find your own way home.

Imagine trying to remember every left and right turn, every cross-roads, every landmark however insignificant and all in reverse !

The human brain is a wonderful thing but it can only take so much.

AspieMama said...

Thanks for your comments everyone! It was interesting to read your insights. I hope that they can be a help to other parents.

Becca said...

Yes! This is so true and drives me crazy sometimes. It's like if I don't take the kids directly home from school that our Aspie freaks out. I can't even drive by the post office or anything. Even if I say we are going to do something fun it is just too much for him. I joke that one day I'm going to pick him up and say we're going to Disneyland, and he's still going to freak out and not want to go.