**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 5, No. 1 January 2003
Preachers often speak most passionately about the issues that they themselves are facing most directly. Sometimes, the confidence in the words and tone of voice belies the struggle underneath to truly “practice what you preach.”
So this issue of Companion Resources Newsletter explores the subject of transitions. I am in transition. Our family is in transition. The community where we live in going through major transition. And the fact that this first newsletter of the year is coming out well into February gives away the struggle to manage all of our transitions!
So hopefully, it’s not hypocrisy, but a desire to learn as we think together about transitions, that motivates this subject. We will focus, as usual, particularly on transitions for persons with special needs.
Transitions are not easy! When life goes along one way for awhile, but then needs to take a different path, there are many stresses and feelings connected with that change.
Some people handle transitions very well. They are flexible and adaptable. Most of us probably handle life’s daily transitions in reasonably smooth fashion. However, for some persons, particularly persons with particular mental illnesses and autism spectrum disorders, transitions can be pretty rocky.
A recent story appeared in the news about a star high school basketball player making his third attempt to play college ball. His first two attempts failed because of a mental illness called “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” (OCD). Persons with OCD have particular trouble with transitions because their thoughts get stuck on minor details of what they are already doing. Did I wash my hands well enough? Is the door locked? Are the lights off? Sometimes these little things can paralyze a person with OCD and make it impossible to focus on the next thing they need to do.
Persons with autism spectrum disorders also very often have difficulty with transitions. Fascinations develop with sensory stimulation in the present. For children, it might be a spinning top, trees blowing in the wind, or a puzzle that remains unfinished. It is difficult to break into that stimulation that the person is experiencing to ask them to go on to a different task. The result of forcing the issue is often a heightened anxiety and negative behaviors that express confusion and anger.
How can we help with transitions, particularly in situations where persons have difficulty with change? There are no easy formulas that work for everyone, but perhaps a few tips can be helpful.
1. Discover through observation the person’s compulsions and how those affect the ability to make transitions.
2. Try to gauge how far ahead a person needs to know before a change in activity. By way of illustration, when we had three very different young men in our household, it would never work to announce at supper that we were going to have company coming for supper the next night. One person would have been fine with this announcement, processing the details in his mind. For another, it wouldn’t have made a difference; he would have needed to be reminded when he arrived home in the afternoon for the news to have made sense. Yet another would have thought that something great was happening right away and would have been excited and anxious, asking about it repeatedly for the next 24 hours. So we learned to prepare each person individually as much as possible.
3. Try to reach some kind of closure on the activity at hand and assure the person that anything that is unfinished can be worked on at a specific time in the future.
4. Don’t rely on simply saying “It’s time to do this…” Use visual and action cues to help persons make transitions. The use of a clock will be important for some persons. Others can benefit from seeing and checking off items on a list. Objects that symbolize the transition can be helpful, such as setting a stuffed bed toy in front of a child when it’s time for bed.
5. For big transitions, such as moving to a new house, introduce the changes gradually. Help them to think new thoughts with questions. Connect the change to something the person likes. “You had fun at Grandpa and Grandma’s house today, didn’t you? What do you think it would be like to live nearer to them?”
6. Discern when it is time to let the matter drop and come back to it in a new way in a few minutes.
I’m sure there are other tips that some of you could develop as well. If you would like to send them to me, I’ll publish some of them in the next edition of the Companion Resources Newsletter.
Until then, happy transitions as you continue to build community!
Paul D. Leichty
Phone/Fax: 1-877-214-9838 (toll free)
“People using Technology building Community”