When “Same” is Different

July 24, 2014

Years ago, when Robert was 5, 6, or 7, I signed him for a trip, organized by a local chapter of ARC, to the Roger William Zoo. Since that was the zoo which our family visited often, I did not anticipate any problems. After all, it was the place, Robert already knew well.
I was unpleasantly surprised when I learned that there was a problem and a big one. Apparently at some point after entering the Zoo, Robert spread himself on the ground refusing to follow the rest of the group. I could easily imagine the difficulties experienced by those who were taking care of him. Robert’s strong will had presented itself to me on a few occasions already. If Robert wanted something, he would neither give up or let other persuade him to change his mind. I didn’t ask for all the details as to how long the tantrum lasted and how it ended. I tried to understand why it happened in the first place.
Soon, I understood the issue. The group followed a different path than Robert used to take during our visits to the Zoo. He had already established routines. First, the stop at the restroom by the entrance, followed by visits to zebras, emus, and cheetahs viewing areas, and then left turn toward wetlands. Our family chose that route to avoid a pizza place on a way toward the rest of the zoo, but to stop there on the way back to the car.
The group didn’t follow any of those habits and thus Robert was convinced that everything was wrong.
It was the same place. Being in the same place called for following the same routine. But that did not happen. Everything was different and thus everything hat to be wrong.

Had the group visited a new place, Robert didn’t know yet, then his strong convictions about right ways and wrong ways of visiting would have not interfered with the prior plans of the organizers. In different places, Robert expected and accepted different things to see and do. In the same places, he wanted the same things to happened in the same order.

Although hearing about Robert’s vehement protests was not very pleasant, it was , nonetheless, enlightening.
We, the parents, understood that we had to keep avoiding repeating the same routines as they solidify quickly into concrete in Robert’s mind. We learned to draw numbers on the zoo maps showing the directions and order of visits to different sections of the Zoo. Even, when Robert didn’t grasp the connection between points on the map and the directions of his steps, he knew that there was something else controlling his movements, The map became a tool mitigating the influence of established habits.
Now, as Robert’s receptive language allows him to understand more, telling Robert what to expect ahead of time, helps a lot.

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