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Two Words: Autistic. Rigidity.

My clients in the Embracing Autism Accelerator program are always looking for new strategies to manage their Autistic child’s rigidity.

And if you’re parenting an Autistic child, I’m sure you can relate!

See, it isn’t a secret that Autistic children tend to be extremely rigid, whether that looks like…

  • always sitting in the exact same spot (and freaking out if they can’t)
  • demanding that everyone play *exactly* how they want them to
  • expecting the same things in the same order every single time
  • having a meltdown when any tiny thing doesn’t go their way
  • refusing to see other people’s point of view in a discussion

And while I love discussing strategies for managing rigidity (and I’m doing just that on an upcoming workshop!) today I want to talk about why Autistic kids are so rigid in the first place.

Young boy wearing glasses sits at a table with his head on his fists and his elbows resting on the table looking angry. Text reads: "Why Are Autistic Kids So Rigid"

3 Simple Reasons Autistic Kids Are So Rigid

If we haven’t met yet, hey friend, I’m Kaylene!

I’m an Autistic adult and parent-coach that helps parents of autistic children drop the “autism mom” label and become the parent-advocate that their kids truly need.

So if you’re looking to be able to truly accommodate your child, balance your family life, and create real change through advocacy, feel free to hop over to AutisticMama.com/Apply and fill out the form to access an advanced private training!

#1 Safety

The first reason that Autistic kids tend to be so rigid is safety.

Autistics spend most of our lives anxious and stressed because we’re living in a world that wasn’t built for us.

And all humans—not just Autistic humans—tend to be more rigid when we’re anxious because it helps us to feel more in control.

This can look like:

  • Demanding to only eat “safe foods” and refusing to try anything new
  • Having a meltdown when someone messes with their routine
  • Lashing out when a sibling plays the game “wrong”

So think about when your Autistic child is overly rigid and controlling during play… That is very likely because not knowing what others will do causes a lot of anxiety for your child.

Rigidly controlling the game allows your child a feeling of safety.

#2 Ritual

The second reason that Autistic kids tend to be rigid is for ritual.

When we do the same things in the same way, or the same order, we know what to expect and avoid surprises.

Rituals can be really comforting as they take a lot of the uncertainty out of situations that tend to cause stress. They can also give us something exciting to look forward to.

This can look like:

  • Needing to take the exact same route to school every single day
  • Freaking out when someone doesn’t follow a script exactly
  • Demanding McDonald’s after therapy every week because it happened twice, so obviously now that’s a rule (#AskMeHowIKnow)

You know how your Autistic child wants to get ice cream after going to the beach every single time without fail and having a meltdown if the ice cream shop is closed? That’s just another example of ritual-based rigidity.

And the thing is, rituals can feed into our feeling of safety (from point #1) which makes them an even more powerful reason for rigidity.

#3 Opinions

The final reason for Autistic rigidity is the most simple. Opinions.

Sometimes Autistic children are rigid simply because they have a strong opinion about the way things should be, and they aren’t interested in other people’s opposing opinions.

This can look like:

  • Thinking they don’t actually need that much sleep and they can definitely stay up until 2 AM
  • Not enjoying small talk and therefore refusing to participate
  • Only talking about their specific interests and ignoring other people’s interests

And here’s the thing… Your child’s rigid opinion isn’t any less valid than your own (or the teacher’s, or the therapist’s, or your mother-in-law’s) rigid opinion.

Your child may be rigid about only playing with their cars by lining them up by color. Your child’s therapist may rigidly believe that the “appropriate” way to play with cars is to pretend to drive them.

We label the child as rigid. A black and white thinker. Inflexible.

But in reality, the child is just playing with their toys. The therapist is the one who’s putting black and white rules on how people *have to* play.

So whenever you’re dealing with your Autistic child’s rigidity, I want you to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Who is actually being rigid here?
  2. Is this safety, ritual, or opinion?
  3. How can I support my child through this?

Now you have a better understanding of your Autistic child’s rigidity and where it’s coming from, but you probably still have questions like…

  • What do I do when my other kids are constantly giving in to avoid an outburst from my Autistic child?
  • How do I handle rigidity around things we HAVE TO do like basic hygiene or seatbelts?
  • What do I do when it feels like I can’t bend a rule ONE time or the bent rule is now the only one that matters?
  • How should I know when to be flexible and roll with the rigidity and when to stick to my boundaries?
  • What can I say when my kid has absolutely no interest in anyone’s opinions but their own?

That’s exactly why I put together a brand new workshop, exclusively for my Embracing Autism Accelerator clients, Rocking Rigidity!

Screenshot of Rocking Rigidity Workshop including workbook on a pink background. Text reads: "Introducing Rocking Rigidity Only in Embracing Autism Accelerator Apply Now

The Rocking Rigidity Workshop will walk you through exactly how to manage your Autistic child’s rigidity without crushing their spirit, causing more meltdowns, or letting a tiny dictator run your entire family.

And this workshop is exclusively for clients in the Embracing Autism Accelerator program, so you can apply here for your invite!