Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused
By Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA
[This column was published in the West Springfield Republican on January 23, 2021, and in the Randolph Herald, Canton Journal, Stoughton Journal, and Holbrook Sun on February 24, 2021.]
Those of us who work with individuals who have intellectual disabilities (ID) often promote the benefits of a consistent schedule and a regular routine. Schedules and routines can help all of us be more organized and productive, and they can be very comforting too.
Sometimes, however – and especially at the beginning of a new year – many of us are ready to make some changes in our lives and eager to try new things.
Trying new things can help you become more confident about who you are and what you can achieve. We all get stuck in unhealthy or unwanted patterns of behavior. Most people struggle with changing behavior because behavior is an adaptive response that, at some point, served an important purpose in our lives. Oftentimes we hold on to a behavior or habit even when it has become problematic because it is familiar and safe.
It takes a lot of courage to recognize when behavior patterns are no longer useful and commit to finding new ways to live a healthier and more rewarding life.
At first, changing an ingrained habit can seem like a nearly impossible task. It is common for many of us to take an all-or-nothing perspective. This often leads to avoidance of change because it is uncomfortable to consider the possibility of failure.
It is vital that the life change you choose to make is one you are highly motivated to make. Spend some time writing down why a change is needed and why you value it. Keep this reminder with you as you work towards your goal. It can help you stay committed to your goal when progress is slow.
When starting a new activity, think about how you can make the beginning of the process less stressful. Having a plan that identifies how you will overcome initial obstacles will make it more likely that you will succeed. For example, for some adults with ID, starting a new activity is hard because of transportation issues. In this case, it would be imperative to come up with a way to set up a ride before beginning the activity. Doing this kind of advance planning will save time and help you feel more in control before you embark on something new.
There are no small achievements when setting out to change your life. In fact, it is best to begin with small steps as you gradually move towards your goal. Setting a realistic goal makes it more likely that you will be successful. For instance, a goal of exercising for an hour every day may not be achievable at first. When you start exercising, your initial goal might be to fit in five minutes of exercise at least three days per week. Over time, however, as exercising becomes a part of your routine and as you get in better physical shape, it is likely that you will exercise longer and more frequently. Start small and be prepared to adjust your goal as you make progress.
Family and friends can be helpful when you start to make positive shifts in your life. We all need encouragement from the people we love. Tell someone about the change you want to make and why is important. Give him or her permission to remind you of your commitment.
No one wants to be ruled by unhelpful, unhealthy behavior patterns. Making a successful life change will allow you to be open to new experiences in the future and more aware of your limits. Avoiding change is not a safe alternative. Even one small change can have a positive impact on your life. The key is to start with a realistic plan and be willing to accept help and encouragement from others as you begin your journey towards achieving your goal.
Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA, is the Director of Clinical Services for the May Center for Adults Services in Western Massachusetts. She can be contacted in West Springfield at 413-734-0300 (ext. 262) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit www.mayinstitute.org.