All of the families who come to us are unique. They have different struggles across every kind of factor you could think of, and every new-patient intake we receive tells a different story. But what you may find interesting is that there is one question that nearly all of our parents answer similarly.
“Is your child flexible with change?”
Answers range from “It depends” to “Not at all”. It’s pretty uncommon for a parent to say yes. Even when we have adult patients and we ask about their own flexibility with change they admit that change is hard. And that’s because it is!
Adaptability is someone’s ability to adjust to new conditions. Whether that is transitioning from one task to another, having your plans for the day change unexpectedly, or a huge life-changing event, your ability to adapt is key to keeping up your quality of life. For some people adapting is natural, but for many even suggesting change can be distressing. For people with additional challenges like Anxiety or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, it can be devastating.
One of the first things you can use for those who have problems with adaptability is giving prior notice when you know that a change is going to happen. In this example, we’ll use transitioning from a preferred task to a non-preferred task.
Let’s say Jamie is playing video games but has not done their chores for the day yet. Instead of just asking or telling Jamie to put the game down and do their chores Jamie will transition much better with a 15-minute warning. “In 15 minutes can you make your bed and pick up your dirty laundry?” This will give Jamie time to switch gears in their mind and get to a place in their game where it feels appropriate to stop playing. In many video games you cannot just stop at any time, but instead you have to find a ‘place to save’ your progress. If you are playing a game online you would have to leave another person, or sometimes many people hanging mid-task. If Jamie is playing with friends then their friends will be sad or upset that Jamie left them without warning.
If you don’t have much experience with video games, imagine if you were more than halfway done putting together a small 50-piece jigsaw puzzle on the kitchen table, and you knew that if you did not finish it before walking away it would magically come apart and you would have to start over. You could probably finish it in just a couple minutes! How would you react if someone told you you had to stop before you were finished to scrub the toilet? Most likely not great! But if you were given a 15-minute warning then you definitely have time to finish it, then get all the satisfaction of completing the puzzle right before having to don your rubber gloves, and maybe then cleaning the toilet won’t be so bad.
Let’s examine adaptability on a greater scale. Let’s say you have no choice but to relocate to another state. For a person with good adaptability, they will be sad they aren’t going to see their friends in person for several months or maybe even a couple of years but they will keep in touch and make new friends in their new city and start a new chapter in life. You’ll miss your old job (or maybe you’ll be happy to move on) but the new one will have better pay, or better hours, or is a job you’d rather be doing. For those who are not adaptable, this might not even feel like an option. How could I live without my friends? Why should I have to change my routine? With anxiety it then turns into “What if my friends hate me for leaving and never speak to me again? What if I can’t find anyone in the new town that I get along with? What if I don’t fit in at my new school? What if my co-workers at my new job are rude? What if my boss doesn’t like me and fires me and I ruin my life by moving?"
Making the change gradual can lessen the burden. Having a few months to prepare can ease the stress. If possible, visit the new town you’re moving to and get to know the area so it’s not as intimidating. Joining online communities for the area or school to get a feel for the social climate can help.
There are many ways to work with poor adaptability. At Flourishing Lives we have many years of experience helping people learn to adapt and giving parents tools to help their children with whatever changes may come their way. We believe it’s essential to support the whole family when there are difficulties. Treatment of a child with adaptability issues not only helps the child but everyone else in the family as well. Every meltdown we can help prevent is one less time a parent will feel stressed or helpless, one less time a sibling will have to put up with screaming, and one less time the person who would have had the meltdown will have to feel the tornado of emotions that come with dysregulation.
If you’d like to learn more about adaptability, let us know! We’re more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Know someone who struggles with adaptability? Have them call us at 586-293-1234 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to see if they’re a good fit for Occupational Therapy at Flourishing Lives!