5 Ways To Create Predictability: "Triad of Impairments" in Autism
Autistic black girl looking at schedule of timetable to create predictability

5 Ways To Create Predictability: Part 2 of “Triad of Impairments” in Autism

Note: This is the second part of a three part series on a more positive version of the classic “triad of impairments” in autism. If you missed it, you can read Part 1 here.

For John Simpson the traditional understanding of the “triad of impairments” in autism just wasn’t that helpful. He came up with his own more positive triad, and it is one that has helped me to find actionable ways to address some of my own children’s needs. Instead of pointing out what someone on the spectrum CAN’t do, John’s version looks at what CAN be done to address basic issues. In this case: what the traditional “triad” describes as ” difficulty in communicating”, John has redefined as a “need for predictability”.

What is predictability for someone with autism?

Predictability is the ability to know and understand what is coming up next in your day. Many of us feel less anxious when we know what is expected of us, and how we are going to navigate our day to day lives. For someone on the spectrum even knowing which washroom to use, unless it is exactly like the one they are used to using at home, can be a major challenge. Predictability  is a way for someone on the spectrum to assuage their anxiety over the unknown, and empower themselves into their daily tasks.

How can we help create predictability for those on the spectrum?

1) Write a social story with your child or ward, either to read or show them visuals. Include any major changes that might cause anxiety. This is a tool you can use leading up to the event and for the first week after any big change has occurred such as a new school or family vacation.

2) Use written or visual aides. You can take photos of where the child will be going and pin them up on a board that shows what the day or event will look like. This is especially helpful if you are going somewhere new and won’t be able to show them where you are going in advance. I have found downloading images of hotels we will be staying at or restaurants were we will be eating to be very helpful to calm my children’s anxiety while we are traveling.

3) Try to keep to a schedule that makes them comfortable. Sometimes we can’t do much about change, but we can try to keep daily meals, show watching times, nap times, and other daily rituals on schedule.

4) Create a checklist of any new routines and tape it in an agenda or binder so it can be easily referenced and checked off. Be specific – for instance, if the child is expected to be at school at 8:45, but the bell rings at 8:50 and he is expected to be in class by 9:00, list all of that separately.

5) As much as possible, go with your child or ward to their new school/care centre etc…prior to when they would be expected to be there, and preferably when there are few other people present. Show them where they are going, and point out basic areas like the washroom they will be expected to use, the lunch room where they will eat lunch, or the classroom they will be in. It is also good to take them to a centre location like a principals office so they know where they should go if they need help.

Creating predictability is a great way to address anxiety and fear over change and new events. Those on the spectrum benefit highly from regulated and predictable schedules, and may need help to overcome anxiety around any transitions and change by finding and highlighting areas of predictability within them. While communication is indeed an issue for many people with autism, creating predictability and calming anxiety can go a long way towards creating an environment that supports the most communication possible.

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