We recently noticed changes in our daughter’s behavior amid some extra chilly weather here in South Florida. Granted we observed it as she was coming out of a warm pool from swim team practice into the breezy chill of night. I actually had her with me at work that evening and she was still reeling from the experience. But it caused such a strong emotional reaction by her that it got me thinking more about weather and it’s effect on autism.
Over the years we’ve seen differences in her over weather patterns and season changes. If she got overheated, she would shut down. When she got rained on fully clothed, with no rain gear, she would melt down. If it was a combination of wet and cold, then it was just like the other day….a total disaster!
But I finally realized the reason why weather has had such a big effect my daughter’s autism. Despite the fact that she loves cold, “winter” days, or that she loves very sunny beach days surfing, jumping waves and playing with the sand…there is one thing that these things have in common that she has difficulty dealing with. They all involve change. If she can’t control when she can be cold or hot, or if she’s prepared for it, she cannot deal with the weather changing. It screws with her routine, and autism loves routine.
Plans to play at the beach and it starts lightning, not good. Playing at the park and it starts raining and you have no raincoat or umbrella, big problem. Hopping in and out of the pool at swim practice in the 40s, disaster! Most of us would be able to sort of roll with the punches when it comes to these unexpected changes, but someone with autism can have difficulty going with the flow. When their usual
routine is tampered with, it can wreak all kinds of havoc and cause major meltdowns. It can also increase their anxiety and impulsive behaviors.
Think about how you feel when the weather changes. When it starts to get cold do your joints ache or does your arthritis act up? Does the change in barometric pressure effect your migraines? How about your sinuses? Mine are a wreck when a front moves in and my allergies get worked up. Do any of these changes effect your behavior or mood? I know I can be pretty crabby when a front, along with a sinus headache, makes its way into my head. So imagine our kiddos with sensory issues. Everything is amplified and these same things can have an effect on how they act, how they feel, and their overall mood.
* All is not lost though. There are many different things that we as parents can try to do to keep some semblance of routine when the weather is awry. It helps to have a bag of tricks when weather puts a hitch in your plans. There are things that can help prepare you for these moments and others that can help you through them. Here are some things we plan to try or that we’ve found helpful:
* Always talk about appropriate behavior when dealing with change
* Show them the positive side of the change (we can’t play outside because it’s raining, but rainy days are perfect for cuddling, popcorn and watching movies) or create some weather themed activity like making marshmallows together for hot cocoa on a cold day.
* It’s always helpful to redirect. Help them to move on to another activity. Maybe set up a calm and quiet area and consider watching the rain together.
* Lessen any sensory triggers that you know might make things worse. If we are in the thick of a meltdown, I will give my daughter paper towels in a public restroom instead of encouraging her to use the noisy hand dryers.
* Have them participate in some kind of calm sensory activity like playing with playdough, playing with their fidget spinner, or bouncing around a slinky. Those stress balls do wonders too!
* Active indoor play is helpful too. I’ve found that both my children benefit from yoga balls in and outside of their school classrooms. So I hope to get these and the chair frames I’ve found for their desks and for those moments when a little bouncing can help. If you have room for a small trampoline, those are always great too.
* Play music that captures the mood of whatever the weather is. We find classical music or the sound of water/waves is soothing. It’s also great for all of us to read by and is very relaxing.
* Exercise indoors or outdoors can diffuse a situation too. I’ve allowed my daughter to blow off some steam on my indoor bike. Both kids benefit from doing yoga and really enjoy it.
* Coloring can be really calming for the kids, but also adults. It’s amazing how it can completely change your mood. Art is really therapeutic.
* I’ve never tried anything weighted, but many people say that weighted blankets or pillows can be extremely helpful. The pressure helps with a lot of our kiddos.
* Who doesn’t love a great massage? Kids do too! When she was little, our daughter enjoyed hand and foot massages. It’s something that I would love to try to help her relax and alleviate some anxiety for both of us. Mommy/daughter massages here we come!
* We’re still experimenting and learning a lot about essential oils, but they have already been very helpful in helping our daughter focus and stay calm. These couple with breathing techniques can really be effective.
* Last and not even remotely least, don’t underestimate the power of prayer and mindfulness. This should really be first on the list because our faith as our foundation and family prayer has really been a source of comfort, stability, and peacefulness for not only our daughter, but our whole family. Praying together has helped us through so many difficult and challenging times. Practicing a positive mindset and mindfulness in general has also been helpful for both kids. It something I hope to work on more with our children.
All storms eventually pass. The weather is constantly changing and can be hard to keep up with. It helps to be prepared for those changes. Just have your back up plans and your tools at hand. Then you, your child with autism, and your family can weather any storm.