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Wholeness and Completion Issues

January 12, 2024

If your child or a student that you teach, seems defiant or like they “just won’t listen,” then you need to read this article.
When my daughter, (who has Asperger’s Syndrome), was a toddler I had concerns that she was deaf at times because of the way she would ignore me when her name was called.
Me: “Mary.”
Me: “Mary.”
Me: “MARY.”
Mary: “What.” {Expressionless, without even looking up}

So I did what any concerned parent would do, I talked to her pediatrician who scheduled a hearing test at CCMC (CT Children’s Medical Center). Her hearing was perfect.

Completion Issues and Routines

I have learned very much from my daughter. Even after years of being an educator, it amazes me the information that I have yet to learn.
As soon as Mary was able to walk, (which in her case wasn’t until 2 and half or a little later), I noticed that she would shut every door that was open. It drove me crazy because I was worried that she would smash her little fingers. I was unaware that what she saw was something “incomplete.” In her eyes, that door HAD to be shut. This was perhaps the first completion issue that Mary presented. Doors can be an easy trigger for autistics.

Mary has the ability to envision entire scenarios before they happen. Also, until she plays out the entire scenario, she has the innate ability to focus so intently that she can tune everything else out. This is sometimes not just an envisioned scenario but can also be an action that she is accustomed to doing. In either case, you cannot interrupt! Saying or screaming her name will not stop her, and if you physically try to stop her from completing the action or scenario then a major melt down will occur. This is normal for children with sensory issues and autistics. It is commonly referred to as a “completion issue.” To many people with autism, things have a distinct shape. A ball is a circle (to a child) or a sphere (to an adult). When this shape is altered it creates a certain amount of anxiety and/or discomfort because the image that they are used to is dissimilar. Any change, albeit change of plans or a change in imagery is unsettling to a child with autism. Just like a change in scientific materials will undoubtedly bring about a different concluding result in an experiment, so will a change in plans or imagery bring about a different emotional response in an autistic person.

Wholeness And Completion Issues
Routines are extremely important to a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. For Mary, part of her weekday routine is walking down the sidewalk to her bus stop. Day after day, I would try to stop her before the end of the sidewalk to keep her away from the road as a safety precaution. Her defiance continued to grow. Instead of walking out with me, she would bolt out the front door in hopes of completing her path to the school bus before I could prevent her from finishing. However, I was unaware that what she was doing wasn’t defiance. It was her “completion issue.”
To Mary, she had a path and a routine that must be completed before her bus got there. If she didn’t complete her path then who knew what would happen next. Autistics need a routine for comfort, safety and security. With all of their sensory issues, they often feel like they don’t have much control over their daily lives, which is quite aggravating.

Wholeness and Completion
So try to become creatures of habit. I’m not saying set a schedule every day and stick to it, because life changes. However, you can give your kid a great sense of security by creating some routines throughout the day. Trust me; it relieves a lot of anxiety and behavioral outbursts. I will admit that when someone told me to make a picture schedule for Mary at home, I didn’t want to even consider it. I admit that schedules are imperative to achieve peace and tranquility, but I also encourage “wiggle room.” For instance, have “open play time” (kids can play anything alone or with someone) or “out-of-the-house time,” (which can be going to the grocery store or going to the park). At first, I thought I had to plan every second of everyday, which to me is just not practical. Life changes and I want my daughter to know that.

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So what I have done, that works for us is to have a “wake up routine,” and a “bedtime routine.”
For my family, the kids wake me up at 5:30 almost every day.  I tell the girls to go use the bathroom and get dressed. While they get dressed, I change the baby’s diaper and get him dressed for the day. When I am done changing the baby, I go into the girls’ room and check to make sure that their clothes match and that the clothes they chose are appropriate for the weather. Then I remind them to brush their teeth. Once teeth are brushed and clothes are approved they are let downstairs. (I have gated the top of my stairs.)
When we get downstairs, Mary has a cup of warm chocolate milk and watches one kid-approved show from our Netflix Instant Queue. Meanwhile, I set up the coffee maker and feed the baby. After the baby is fed, mommy has her coffee and watches the news while the girls eat breakfast. Then we have what Mary has come to call “open play time.” The girls can play what they want. Around, ten in the morning I pull out the crafts and do something crafty with them. It can be something as simple as folding a piece of construction paper and letting them use my stamps to make a card for someone; playing with play dough or floam; or something more constructive and planned like the cookie monster foam crafts that we made this morning. At eleven my cell phone alarm goes off to remind us to clean up our craft and make room for lunch. I make lunch. We eat. Get shoes on and begin the battle to brush hair. So we can make it outside by 12:20 to stand at the edge of the road to wait for the bus.
After school, she has a snack and has “open play.” At 4:30 my cell phone alarm goes off again to remind me to start making dinner if I haven’t started yet. So if the girls are playing outside they know that they have to come inside, while mommy cooks. We eat dinner between 5:30 and 6. Then, bath time, a Backyardigans episode, brush teeth, use potty, read one story, tuck in the girls, lights out then say prayers, and then I sing a certain order of lullabies until they are both asleep.

I highly recommend timers. There is no arguing with the timer. It is concrete. It has helped in so many ways. We even use the microwave timer if one of the girls wants a turn with what the other sibling has. If you don’t have a timer on your, stove, your microwave or your cell phone – buy one. You’ll thank me later. I have become used to my cell phone since it is always on me if I’m at home, at work, at the park, etc. It is my built-in timer.

Whole and Half

Most, if not all autistics, have aversions to food. In other words, they are extremely picky eaters usually because of their sensory issues. However, you can help alleviate some of the food tantrums by understanding this next issue.

One of the worldwide habits that parents do for their young children is cut their food. Why? To avoid choking. It is just a natural occurrence at any dinner table to see a parent cutting a kid’s dinner up for them.
However, cutting up food to some kids with autism creates a problem. For example, cutting a strawberry in half can be disturbing because the fruit is incomplete. So now the child is not only struggling with the temperature of the strawberry (was it refrigerated or room temperature) and the texture (all those tiny little seeds), but now they have to deal with the food not being whole. This of course leads back to completion issues. They have an image of what a strawberry should look like and you have altered that image. This provokes anxiety and frustration.
In no way, am I suggesting that you stop cutting your child’s food. However, if they are old enough and have a full set of teeth, you might want to consider it.

In conclusion, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This completion issue has many benefits. For instance, Mary knows that she cannot step into the street until the bus door is open. Once I learned about completion issues, I was amazed to learn that Mary could run full speed up the sidewalk but she would stop dead in her tracks when she got to the edge of the road. Why? Because the path was complete and she couldn’t move until the next task, which is waiting for the bus driver to open her door. My neighbor asked my one day, “Aren’t you scared that she’ll run into the road?” I confidently smiled and said, “I know she won’t.” She said, “How can you be so certain?” I said, “Because that would break the routine. She has programmed herself to know that she takes 6 steps out the front door, twelve to the left and fifteen straight and she can’t move until the bus door is open.” Mary has never once, stepped into the road until that bus door is open. (This does not mean that you should let your child run toward the road!) In case I haven’t mentioned it – every autistic person is differently affected. I am just trying to shed some light on the issues that I have seen and lived first hand so that other parents and educators might be able to understand why an outburst or meltdown occurred and possibly prevent one next time.  To gain a better understanding of triggers, check out this list at

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/thoseguys119/

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