Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Uncertainty and Change

We all need a certain amount of tension and uncertainty in order to thrive and grow. We are bored and stuck when there is no change. Monotony is boring.

We all need "just right" tension, uncertainty, and challenges. Dr Gutstein always referred to that concept as "productive uncertainty". Too much tension, change, uncertainty is overwhelming, produces chaos, and often causes an individual to shut down, or to create sameness, rituals, rigidity, in order to avoid chaos. Many individuals on the autism spectrum experience a big amount of chaos unless they stick to a rigid routine. (There's a blog post about sensing patterns rolling around in my mind at this point, but that would take me on a detour that I don't want to take in this particular post.)

As I think about all of the change we'll experience in this move, sometimes, I feel very overwhelmed and want to resist the change with all of my might. During those times of feeling overwhelmed, I more clearly understand the need for routine and sameness in autism.

As we prepare to make this big move, I am reminded of family systems theorist, Virginia Satir, and what she observed and described as five steps to navigating and incorporating change. (I completed some grad level work in the area of marriage an family therapy in another life, before children. My favorite theorist was (is) Virginia Satir. I still learn a lot from her.)

Here's my take on Satir's five steps to processing change:

First, in my term, is our current 'normal'; it's our life here in the Midwest as we know it. Second, is the tension, the change, the challenge, the uncertainty: the upcoming move. Third is the chaos - which occurs at many levels. While we anticipate the move, our chaos is mental and emotional. As our belongings are packed and moved, we'll have a lot of physical chaos. Fourth is a period of integration, assimilation, accommodation, which all happen at many levels, too. And fifth and last, is our new 'normal'.

There's a much more in depth explanation of the stages, here, if you're interested.

I see myself and my children going up and down between the second, third, and fourth stages. That's to be expected, and it's a good reminder for me that we are feeling and experiencing what everyone feels with big change.

I have something that my children do not have regarding our upcoming move, and it involves the fourth step of integration, assimilation, accommodation: I have the experience bank of having moved before. I have the experience of losing my day-to-day life as I knew it and morphing into a new life in a new city, experiencing some painful losses while simultaneously experiencing pleasurable gains and bonuses that I would never have experienced had we not moved.

Navigating the chaos step is the pressing step at the moment, keeping lines of communication open so the kids are comfortable verbalizing questions, so that we can answer them or begin to find answers, which will reduce some of the temporary chaos. I want to be able to preview for all three of my children (not just the one on the autism spectrum) both the fun and excitement of moving and the loss and change. Right now, they aren't able to picture the fun and excitement of new discoveries in a new town; they've never done that. It's not a part of their experience bank. They must rely on someone who has been through this before (a guide, as in "guided participation") to help them make some sense of a move. (I, on the other hand, have never moved with children, or with a child on the autism spectrum, and am looking for folks who have that experience in their experience banks to guide me as I consider places to look for a home, autism services and supports, schools, etc.)

I want us to look back on the experience having a sense of confidence and competence where we are able to acknowledge the uncertainty while sensing that, although it was big, it is temporary (until the next change) and that we were able to navigate it, and navigate it together, and recognize that we have navigated change before this, and that we will be able to navigate the next change, and the next one, and the next one. I want this move to add many deposits to our experience banks, one that will grow us for the better.

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