Saturday, September 17, 2011

Autism and Change

All people are resistant to change.  It is a natural part of being human.  Change in the workplace: the fear of losing a job is enough to make most people uncomfortable.  Someone who loses their job does not know what is going to happen.  Many people do not know how they might provide for their families while out of work.  I have been a cashier at a retail job for a period of three years and have seen people who use food stamp cards.  I remember one person telling me that they never thought they would reach the point where they had to use a food stamp card after working for so many years.  Change affects people in many ways and is largely an uncomfortable process.

About a year ago while taking a class at Oakland University, my professor for a class on organizational behavior turned all the desks around to simulate to the class the affect that change can have on individuals in any sort of environment.  On a typical day, you would walk into the room with all the desks facing away from you, towards the whiteboard.  Those who walked into the room on this day suddenly found themselves in the unexpected situation of having everyone watch them as they entered the room.  It does not sound like that big of a deal, but it is something that is taken for granted then is suddenly and unexpectedly twisted around. 

When I walked in the room to find all the chairs facing me, the effect it had on me was incredible.  I stood stationary for a few moments, mouth gaping open, in denial of what I was seeing.  I felt my senses scrambled.  I had to take a moment; actually it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, trying to understand what I saw.   I crept towards sensory overload.  I was fully aware that I was being watched by everyone who faced me.  I did not muster the will to move until someone came in behind me.  Only then did I proceed to take my seat, still uncomfortable. 

In autism, change is more than just uncomfortable.  For an instant I was frozen in a sensory overload, unable to understand why this change had occurred.  For those with autism, black and white thinking combined with sensory overload makes change more than they can stand.  I do not know how long I stood there in a sensory overload; it may have been longer if that person did not come in behind me when they did.  What I do know is that a few minutes later I had recovered enough to notice that others stood in the doorway in disbelief to see all the chairs facing them.  Once the sensory overload had worn off, it was actually amusing to see the expressions of some people as they faced the unexpected change.

On a more serious note, I recovered quite quickly from such a change in routine.  I imagine the effect an identical situation of change would have on another individual with autism may be more unsettling, or, they may recover quicker than I did.  It depends on the person.  What matters is that all people have to face change.  Those with autism just need a little extra help and consideration when they have to face such change.  Understand, that the effect change can have on an autistic individual ranges from unsettling to stunning.

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