Change is a good thing right? We all know how difficult change can be for a person with autism. Even the seemingly slightest thing such as eating a different food for breakfast or rearranging furniture to clean the floor can send someone who is sensitive to change into a tailspin. The reality of course is that change is coming whether we want it or not. The weather changes. Schedules change. Families change.
A person with ASD might communicate that change is not for them, but as instructors in their lives, we have an obligation to let them know they can manage changes. This is true for their first instructors (their parents), as well. We all need structure and routine because chaos is unsustainable, but too often people with ASD use structure and routine to control not only themselves but whole households or whole classrooms. When this happens, they act as a puppet master. This empowers not the individuals but rather the routine as the most important aspect of life. It also reinforces the static nature of autistic thinking and makes it bigger than it needs to be. This inadvertently also sends a message to the person who is not being the puppet master that their input is not as important as the puppet master. Haven't we all seen the quiet student or sibling who goes with the flow, stay in the corner while teachers or parents manage the puppet master's response to change? No one intends for this to be a message of you are more important than you but it does.
Those families that I know who have empowered, independent people with ASD in their midst have balanced routine and structure with spontaneity and change. This is true for classes and groups as well. The balance is really key for anyone though. Think of an exercise class you might take. There is probably a routine. Sign in, warm-up, stretch, workout, cool down. Routine is good but if you did the exact same workout each time, your body would never learn and therefore, at some point, not get any stronger. The same is true for our loved ones and students. The familiarity needs a sprinkle of change along the way to help them get stronger.