ADHD, Autism and Transition

ADHD, Autism and Transition

Transitions can be tricky for everyone, especially for those with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). These conditions can make shifting gears between activities, places, or routines hard. Both Sam and I struggle with transition and while Samuel is still learning how to cope and support himself, I can at least recognise the signs in both of us and support him as best I can.

The English dictionary describes transition as ‘a change from one form or type to another, or the process by which this happens.’

We all think about obvious transitions in our lives like moving house or marriage. But there are everyday transitions that lots of people won’t even realise are transitions. Transitions that for most people are taken completely for granted.

  • Starting or ending a romantic relationship
  • Becoming a parent
  • Experiencing a loss
  • Reaching milestone ages
  • Serious illness or injury
  • Starting/moving school
  • Changing career
  • Retirement
  • Moving to a new home
  • Travelling abroad
  • Waking up from sleep to getting out of bed.
  • Finishing breakfast and getting dressed.
  • Leaving the house and starting your commute.
  • Switching between different tasks/subjects throughout the day.
  • Shifting from work or school to home/relaxation.
  • Finishing dinner and starting your evening routine
  • Winding down from the day and preparing for sleep.
  • Putting away electronics and getting into pyjamas.
  • Falling asleep and transitioning from wakefulness to rest.

Sam in particular struggles with the transition of getting ready for school. Up until recently it had not occured to me that this was a transition, despite me having my own coping mechanisms to deal with the same morning transition. I’ll try and do as much as I can the night before, look out clothes, pack bag, look out lunch, set out travel mug ready to just fill in morning etc. all these little things mean I have way fewer stresses on my executive function to deal with when I’m getting ready.

There’s a two-pronged answer to why people with ADHD and ASC struggle with transitions:

1. Challenges for Both ADHD and ASC:

  • Executive Functioning: Both conditions can affect executive functioning skills like planning, organizing, and shifting focus. Transitions require these skills to mentally prepare for the next activity, making them inherently difficult.
  • Predictability and Routine: Furthermore ADHD and ASC often thrive on predictability and routine. Transitions disrupt established routines and introduce uncertainty, which can be anxiety-provoking and disorienting.
  • Sensory Processing: Many individuals with ADHD or ASC experience sensory sensitivities. Changes in the environment or stimulation during transitions can overwhelm and disrupt focus.

2. Specific Challenges:

  • ADHD:
    • Hyperfocus and Inertia: People with ADHD can become hyperfocused, making it hard to switch gears away from a rewarding activity. Conversely, starting a new activity can feel overwhelming, leading to inertia (resistance to starting).
    • Time Management and Emotional Regulation: Transitions often involve time constraints, and people with ADHD may struggle to estimate time accurately, making transitions feel rushed and stressful. Additionally, managing emotions like frustration or anxiety during transitions can be challenging.
    • Reward System: Some theories suggest ADHD brains have a different reward system. Transitions disrupt the flow of the current activity, which can be less rewarding, making it harder to switch gears.
  • ASC:
    • Social Cues: Understanding social cues related to transitions can be difficult for someone with ASC. Body language or facial expressions signalling a transition might be missed, leading to confusion or frustration.
    • Need for Processing Time: People with ASC may need more processing time to adjust to changes. Transitions can feel abrupt and overwhelming without this time to prepare mentally.

Remember, the severity of these challenges varies for each individual. Understanding these factors can help us develop strategies to support people with ADHD and ASC through transitions.

For me it is mostly executive function so for morning struggles, as said, I try to do as much as possible in advance. However, I also need a lot of processing time, so having to get myself and two boys ready means getting up 30 mins earlier so I can get myself ready, and then focus on them when I wake them.

Sam struggles with not only the transition of getting ready, but also the sensory side of school uniform. Seams being noticeable, clothes being tight or restrictive and scratchy frabrics close to skin can all be triggers for him. Add into that his need for predicatability and routine, trying to regulate his emotions in a new situation, and his struggle with any loss of autonomy, then as you can imagine transition days in his new school are proving tough.

Here are some tips for both ADHD and ASC:

  • Prepare for Change: Announce upcoming transitions well in advance, both verbally and visually (with timers, pictures, or checklists). Sam doesn’t cope with much verbal interaction on a morning, so a lot of our cues are visual hand signals and pictures.
  • Chunk it Down: Break down large transitions into smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Provide Choices: Offer some control over the transition process (e.g., picking a goodbye song or choosing which shoes to wear first). For Sam this works well as it really gives him the feeling of being in control.
  • Create a Predictable Routine: Establish routines for before, during, and after transitions to provide a sense of security.
  • Sensory Support: For sensory sensitivities, offer calming tools like fidget toys or noise-canceling headphones during transitions. I never go anywhere without my fidget toy! For Sam ensuring his socks are right makes a huge difference to the rest of the transition.

Additional Tips for ASC:

  • Social Cues: Help with interpreting social cues related to transitions, like body language or facial expressions.
  • Safe Space: Provide a designated quiet space to de-stimulate after a busy transition. I love the drive home after work on my own to regulate myself. Sam loves a dark quiet room when he’s particularly struggling.

So, as we move from Easter holidays to BTS tomorrow morning wish us luck. Not only are we transitioning from holidays to term time, but also the simple transition of getting ready and out the house. And Sam is transitioning to a whole new school!

Morning is definitely a hard transition for all of us, another small transition I personally struggle with is moving from task to task at work. And big transitions I struggle with are travelling abroad and moving house. Do you have particlar transitions that you struggle with? What have you found that helps?

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