Managing Franklin’s ritualistic behaviour is extremely tough and becoming increasingly difficult. He has a love for rituals, consistency, and routine.
For Franklin and other children with autism, the world can feel unpredictable and a very frightening place. To try to make things as predictable as possible and therefore reduce his anxiety, Franklin tries to control everything around him and that’s where rituals and routine come into play.
The problem is he can become so dependent on the ritual that he becomes extremely anxious and panics if it gets disrupted. The ramifications of this can be huge.
Food and drink is a major ongoing issue and one that Franklin tries to control. His diet is already appalling with him only eating 5 different food items currently (Bagels, toast (nibbled), ready salted walkers, wowsomes and an occasional hobnob – that is it!). Within this restricted amount it also has to be prepared and served in a very specific way or he will not eat it. He barely eats at school. Adding ritualistic behaviour to this is stressful to say the least.
One of the current food related rituals is he will only eat a bag of walkers ready salted if it’s the last one in the multipack. If there are any more bags in the multipack he won’t have them, or he tries to take them all out to throw them in the bin. Last bag or every bag, nothing in between. It’s caused huge meltdowns over the past few weeks, lasting hours at a time, while I try and break it. I initially had to resort to keeping a spare empty multipack bag in the house to enable one pack to remain in it at all times.
This ritual has unfortunately extended to the one chocolate he will eat which also come in a small multipack. He will categorically not eat them anymore unless he can pick the last one out of the pack and then put the empty pack into the bin. The food rituals are of utmost concern because I can’t afford for Franklin to stop eating any of the very few things he will actually eat 😔
Other recent rituals are having all of the lights switched on or all switched off. As soon as I turn one light on he runs and turns every other light on. If I turn off the kitchen light as I leave that room, he turns every light off downstairs. He recently had a phase of needing all the cushions off the sofa, which wasn’t the end of the world until it hit a peak when I turned my back for 30 seconds!! Hence the time came to break this one.
He’s had rituals since he was very young. He wouldn’t leave the house without opening and shutting the safety gate 3 times first. Only drinking from one particular cup or eating from one particular plate. Kneeling down on the floor as he leaves every room. He will not walk from the car to school, I have to carry him. I’ve tried to break this one many times but the fear of ruining his day at school by starting on such a negative is a dilemma.
One ritual he has had since being very young is carrying something in each hand at all hands, including to bed, and needing them immediately as he wakes up if they’ve fallen on the floor while asleep. I didn’t realise how many photos I had with him clutching something in each hand.
I know Franklin needs and relies on many forms of routine as a coping strategy, but when they step over the line into causing significant problems, I have to break the cycle. Otherwise he will continually add new rituals to his everyday life which affects not only himself but all of us around him. It is a constant battle trying to control the ever expanding rituals, but what other choice is there?