The Interrupted Task...Transition Issues
And Overall Lack Of "Flexibility"...
Many parents had observed that their children were very focused in particular tasks but could care less about others. In addition, moving from one task to the other appeared to be particularly difficult with the autistic child.
There was something else I noticed in Zachary as I came to understand him more and more. It was the fact that if a task or activity was interrupted, no matter how far along in the task or activity at the time of the interruption, Zachary seemed to always have to "start all over". He could never simply "pick up" where he had left off.
This again, was easily explained by my theory of the autistic child's inability to deal with "partiality" and the autistic child's inability to allow for the "in between" situation... with issues of the “part” verses the “whole”.
Autistic children had an overwhelming focus on tasks that provided for them control and predictability and avoided those tasks that did not provide that all necessary "order fix" or tasks that just were too difficult to understand in terms of how the “parts” made up the “whole”. My section on the importance of LABELING everything shows how labeling can greatly help with transition and attention issues.
To the autistic child, there was no such thing as a "started task" that needed to be completed. Once a task was interrupted, it had to be started all over again... until the child learned to deal with “partialities” as they related to specific tasks and was shown it was ok and doable to “continue on” from where he had left off.
I found in working with Zachary, shifting tasks became easier the more I understood the true underlying issues and that in actuality, allowing for a shift in task was more a matter of using the right words and cues and teaching "words to cope" such as "all done" to move from one task to another. As a parent, I learned to use those things I knew worked to my advantage... things like labeling everything, hand over hand techniques, verbal prompts, etc.
For the autistic child, the less downtime - the better. Downtime allowed the autistic child to revert to non-productive, stimulatory type activities that taught nothing new. For the autistic child, rest was indeed work, and if not done properly, downtime could simply allow the child to slip further and further into his own world. For more on this read my section on: Rest And The Autistic Child - When Rest Is Work Too!ă.
Downtime needed to be used for ordering activities that provided a lesson (i.e., spelling, math, reading, etc.). Even a video story could provide a sequencing lesson via its storyline. :o) The key was to show the child the lesson in everything...to make even leisure time productive. For example, when watching “The Ugly Duckling”, I could bring attention to the fact that a duck laid an egg... then, the duck sat on the egg... after that, it hatched and finally, the duckling went for a swim with its mom.
I found Zachary had more issues with sequencing at a younger age… now he was slowly enjoying more in terms of actual storylines. And, stories also helped with issues of transition… showing how one thing was followed by another, etc. Thus, reading to your child, obviously, was a very powerful tool in helping to address issues with transition also.
As a parent, I had learned when I had to be there to help Zachary and when he could work by himself - and that had been key to keeping both of us sane.
Word selection was also very important in helping with transition issues. For example, I would not say: "Let's go practice writing". It was better to say, "All done... let's write Zachary" or something else that was very specific. This allowed Zachary to complete the initial task as well as visualize the upcoming task. This simple, yet very specific phrase provided the closure of the first task, and the labeling, order and predictability Zachary needed to transition smoothly to the next. :o)
I believed the key to helping the autistic child overcome these issues was to make use of fractions... to show the child that the task was "1/2 done", for example, and to show him to "start again" at the "other half" or where he "left off". The understanding and use of fractions was one of the best tools a parent had in helping his child to overcome issues of partiality. Where the task involved multiple steps, labeling each step as "step 1, step 2, etc." also helped. That way, if a task was interrupted, the concept of "continuing on" from a "specific step" could be more easily grasped. :o)
The fact that the autistic child was unable to distinguish the "parts to a task", by definition, meant that the child was also unable to determine the "beginning" and the "end" of a task. This was the reason we saw so many issues with what was so often referred to as "transitions" or the moving from one task to another in the autistic child.
This, combined with the fact that "all new parts" for the "new task" must be defined before the "whole task" could be understood, and the fact that the child also had issues with direction changes, as explained in my section on "Odd Behaviors" made that transitions, were indeed quite difficult for the autistic child.
The inability to properly process the parts to the whole, when examined in terms of the "interrupted task", issues with "transitions" and "direction changes" thus made teaching the autistic child quite a challenge - especially when combined with issues with touch, auditory issues, the breaking of eye contact, hyperactivity, process completion/sequencing issues, communication, socialization, behavioral issues , the inability to “rest” and coping mechanism engaged in by the autistic child and so many other factors related to motor skills, dietary issues, and immune system issues that were simply part of daily life for the autistic child. These issues were further discussed in other sections. Without addressing all these variables, teaching the autistic child would continue to be a source of frustration not only for the child, but for the teacher/parent as well. For optimal learning to occur, all these issues had to be addressed... a difficult task indeed!