Very young children will react badly to change and chaos. Older children will learn ways of managing change, some learn to live with chaos.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders or other disorders that affect their mental and emotional processing abilities find it extremely difficult to cope with even the smallest changes to their everyday lives.
Children are naturally resilient, they have a good range of coping skills, they rely on their parents to keep them safe and to put boundaries in place that allow them to test the water from time to time, without falling in.
Children with ASD do not develop coping skills in the same way as other children. They are no able to transfer learning from one experience to another or from one place or person to another.
e.g. Your children quickly learn that most friends and relatives have similar rules in the house, that all cars do the same ting regardless of colour and that there is more than one way to the supermarket.
Children with ASD experience every day as though things were happening for the first time. They do eventually learn daily family routines but are dependent on things happening in the same way at the same time. Changing the colour of the child's toothbrush can cause huge distress, because a child with ASD is unable to transfer his knowledge about his old toothbrush to the new one. The same thing happens if the family usually goes to the supermarket along one particular road and then one day, they go a different way and all hell breaks loose in the car because the child with ASD does not realise that they will still get to the supermarket. To him the world has turned upside down. He no longer feels safe or secure, he can't work out what will happen next.
Very young children show similar tendencies when things change from the usual, but they are usually easily soothed and can understand that things are O.K., they trust that their parents will make everything work out. They remember the experience and can draw on it to make sense of another similar experience later on.
The child with ASD cannot make use of knowledge or experience in the same way. They rely on sameness for their security and can only manage change if they are well prepared for it, one step at a time with visual aids and cues to help them keep track of what is happening. A surprise party or event would be the very worst thing you could do for a child with ASD.
Love - all children need to be loved and feel loved, just don't expect your child with ASD to show love for you or anyone else - if he does it's a bonus.
Security - all children need security, they need to know that you are there, and will do what you say you will do, they need you to behave in a way that is predictable and consistent. The child with ASD needs this predictability and consistency in order to make each day bearable.
Routines, all children thrive on routines, they like to be fed at the same time, go to bed and get up at the same time, they like things to be done the same way. As they get older you can change the routine, they'll cope, and even enjoy it, e.g. a family holiday.
The child with ASD, will not cope with changes to routine and frequently these children make family holidays impossible, they are not able to function away from their usual residence and daily routine. It is possible to prepare them for change and in that sense change should be part of the routine. A system of preparation for change alerts them that something different is going to happen. If they are always prepared and supported through any change in the same way, they begin to trust that system to keep them safe.
Predictability. From a very young age children can predict what will happen next. When they hear or see their parents come into the room they expect / predict that they will be spoken to or picked up. When they smell food they predict that they will be fed. They have a nightly bath and expect to go to bed after it. Soon their ability to predict what happens next expends to all sorts of things and places. If they are visiting another home and they smell food, they will predict that they will get food, a night time bath will mean bed, they may be unsettled but they can be reassured and they do cope.
Children with ASD are unable to predict what will happen next but they do rely on routines, however, they are unable to predict that these routines will work in another setting. They can't predict that a visit to another house will work out pretty much the same as being at home.
Safety, a sense of safety is developed through experiences of trying new things with loving support from parents and from parents being there to meet the daily needs and attend to any upsets or accidents. Children feel safe around their parents ad other known adults because thy have learned that these adults can make things O.K. for them.
Children with ASD, usually don't develop a sense of trusting adults to make things O.K., they rely on routines or particular behaviours or places to make them feel O.K. They may respond better to one adult rather than another, but often see other people as no more than a means to an end. However, they do realise that they feel better / safe when they do certain things or go to a particular place, e.g. a favourite chair.
Trust, children learn to trust other people and themselves, they learn what they can and can't manage to do, they learn that people will allow them to do certain things and will react in predictable ways. All being well they learn to trust that they will be cared for, that things will be O.K. even if tea is half an hour late or in a friends house. They know that one sweater will keep them as warm as another, they trust that Dad will collect them, even if he is five minutes late, they wait, trusting that he will come.
The child with ASD does not learn to trust in the same way, he relies on routines and rituals to make him feel safe, he does not understand that Mum will arrive to collect him even if she is five minutes late. If Mum is five minutes late he has already lost his sense of security and trust, he can't predict that she will come. To him it's then end of the world because she is not there.
All children do need the same things, some will learn to adapt to life changes and grow within a framework of love, security, routine, predictability, safety and trust, eventually becoming independent adults capable of providing these things for their own children.
Children and people with ASD, however, will almost always need the love and support of others to help them cope with the changes of life, their security and safety depends on others managing their routines and making life predictable for them.