In traffic.  At the gas station and the coffee shop.  For the restroom.  At the supermarket.  To ride the merry-go-round.  To go down the slide.  To swing.  To get a “Happy Meal”.  To purchase anything, anywhere.

Whenever I take my son out in public, we inevitably end up in a line.  This is not good.  Lines are one of the most stressful aspects of living with autism.  I really never paid attention to the number of lines I stood in before my son was born.  Now, I notice them all.  More importantly, I’ve learned to cut down on my need to stand, sit, drive-through or otherwise become involved in anything that remotely resembles a line.

Let me put it this way:

Line = Meltdown

I used to think the little prince simply did not wish to wait his turn.  Then, I found out I was not alone.  Over time, I’ve learned, from a lot of people that it’s not the wait alone that causes the severe reaction.  It’s the fact that he does not know how long the line will take nor the reason why he must wait in it.

It’s a strange thing, the line phenomenon.  We will be driving along and suddenly end up in  a traffic jam.  “G-O spells go!!  Go!!”  my son will tell me.  I will advise him to look ahead at traffic and that I have no where to go.  He does not care.  He wants to go and he will irrationally demand that the traffic jam get out of his way.  He makes it loud.  I’m sure that’s just to assure I have heard him.  He will continue to make his discontent known to me for the duration of our immobility.

If we make it out of the traffic jam and all is content, I’ve usually come close to running out of gas.  As I drive a mammoth SUV that devours fuel, I can usually make it one full day before having to buy another $50 worth.  I do like to purchase other luxuries like food and toilet paper, however, so I try to buy gas at the cheapest location.  I am not alone.  Literally.  So, naturally, there is always a line.

It’s never an orderly line.  It’s more akin to musical gas pumps.  Unless you can maneuver your vehicle around the row of cars in a narrow space and parallel park in a couple moves, someone else in a Mini Cooper or a Smartcar will zip in front of you and take the pump you’ve been waiting 15 minutes to use.  With my SUV, I am not the quickest driver and usually end up waiting twice as long.  You think this pisses me off?  I try to remain calm.  But, there is a little guy who is twice as p.o.’ed about yet another delay.  He begins anxiously questioning me about where we are going.  When I answer by telling him where we will go next, he then begins demanding the next location.  Loudly and repeatedly.

Our next stop on a casual weekend is the coffee shop.  Sometimes, if I get there in an off moment, I can completely avoid a line.  Times like those feel like luxurious moments to me.  Even though I still have to make sure the little guy does not knock over a display, try to go behind the counter to work, or wander away altogether, it is still beyond preferable to hitting the coffee shop when there is a long line that is met with a loud, “Fire truck!” yell by my son, and the usual stares and weird looks at me.

Messing with the line separator - a favorite pre-meltdown line activity...

It’s all a matter of patience.  Lines for purchases, entertainment, food, and necessities like gas are just part of life.  My son has no patience for any of that.  While I know that some people with ASD say they can handle the lines if they know how long they have to wait, this method does not work for us.  ABA is trying to work through behaviors in line by positively reinforcing my son with candy when he makes it every 30 seconds to a minute without behaviors.  This is a “work in progress” and has not transferred over to the times I am with him alone.

I’ve Googled and read but I really see very few direct discussions of tips for teaching patience to your autistic child.  Most articles are about the parents’ challenges maintaining patience with their autistic children!  I’m pretty sure we have no choice but to be patient so that kind of struck me as a oddity for the frequency with which it popped up as a search result.

My best results in teaching patience to my son have been where I did use a candy reinforcer and gave him my iPhone to play with while waiting.  This is about a 65% success rate in waiting through a line no longer than 5-10 minutes.  If it’s longer than that, the pre-cursers to a meltdown begin.  When that happens, I usually leave the line, work through the behaviors with commands and praise and start over on the line (or, if we are running late, leave).

And those are the only solutions I’ve come up with so far – other than simply avoiding the whole situation and that will resolve nothing.  So, this time, I’m hoping you can give me suggestions for teaching my son some patience.  Any tips?

About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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15 Responses to Lines.

  1. Amanda says:

    Standing lines are tough and I can’t really blame him for only lasting about 5 -10 minutes. Car wait is a different matter. During that time we had a lot of audio books in the car, of his favorite TV cartoons. That helped. Earplugs help too.

  2. solodialogue says:

    I don’t know what it is about those lines. Even after working with him in ABA, he still cannot cope with waiting. Thanks for your suggestions Amanda! I will try some new distraction methods and hope for the best! 🙂

  3. Grace says:

    I don’t have any suggestions, but I have something for you to consider.

    Getting in line was a HUGE problem for my son in Kindergarten. His teacher figured out that if he was at either end of the line (front or back, but preferably front) he did better. We reasoned that this was a sensory thing. Having other kids so close in front and behind him was disturbing. I know your son has issues with knowing where his body is in space. Maybe it’s the idea of being crowded that is upsetting for him?

    It probably doesn’t fit with the traffic jam scenario, and patience is definitely an issue for our kids, but I thought I’d put it out there in case you found it helpful.

    • solodialogue says:

      Grace, beauty and brains! I think you are definitely onto something with the people lines. I just don’t think putting him in the front is going to win friends and as the line moves he will not stay at the back!! Thanks, though. I’ll talk to ABA and see if we can come up with some new ideas. 🙂

  4. Jack says:

    Myself, I don’t like people standing behind me unless I know them. I suspect thats more of a personal space issue, I don’t like people I don’t know to stand close to me.

    Waiting in lines, its easyer for me now as I just pull out a book and read, does not bother me being kept waiting.

    Something to think about. Have a look at the other people waiting in line and see if they are acting restless(Not the term I want to use, but can’t spell the word I’m looking for). Not sure about the traffic jam, but when you have people in close proximity he could be picking up on someone elses dislike for lines but not realizing its not his emotions that hes picking up on.

    Hope this helps a little 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks Jack. It might be a personal space issue in part. I don’t know. Most people do get anxious in line, in my opinion. Let’s face it. No one likes lines and he could be picking up on that as well. It’s probably a combination of things and maybe some of that “crowded feeling” that Grace referred to – which is kind of the same personal space thing you are talking about plus picking up on the anxiety around him. I wish he could tell me! 🙂

  5. oooh, I have always loved line separators. It takes a lot of self control for me not to play with them now.

    No advice, but I feel your pain.

  6. Michele says:

    I have a 4yo son with ASD and yes waiting is really hard and lines etc and patience generally. We too have tried praising and rewarding “good waiting” and modelled it and all that. I am at the same point as you wondering what else to do. Will ask the teachers at his early intervention kindy if they have any ideas and share with you if they come yp with anythin gbut I am thinking out loud here and wondering how much of it is to do with not having a great concept if time. Have you seen those time timers with the red countdown of time? Can get as an actual timer clock and/or as an APP on your iPhone /iPAd which we dont have but would love.

    Do you think having some concept of time remaining would help

    Of course the trick would be estimatin ghow long the line or traffic jam is going to take and this would be really har dbut I think for mu little guy watching the red get smaller and time literally passing would help distract I dont know

    Distraction is my main thing at the moment – Gus likes numbers and letters so we count numbers or count objects such as tiles on floor or look for letters of the alphabet and talk about words and spelling. Doesnt always work and would be so nice to just wait in line wiht out having to use the headspace and time and energy to do all these things but do find it helps

    Also have a special Thomas the Tank Engine catalog in my bag that he pores over – can get 5-10 mins out of this sometimes

    Heres a link to the time timers I mean with the red countdown.

    Also look at iTunes store under timers for the App

    • solodialogue says:

      Thank you Michele! If my ABA comes up with any new ideas, I’ll pass them along as well. I will try the timer thing – of course – I’d better overestimate- just in case!! Distraction is important but sometimes he can’t be distracted – that’s usually when I’m forced to leave because the meltdown has begun! Thanks for the link!! Your idea will be implemented! 🙂

  7. eof737 says:

    It’s tough for adults; let alone kids. I think the methods you use are probably what I would offer… The only other one is to find time to run these errands on your own. Sometimes, I had to when my twins were going through the “are we there yet” and “can we leave now” phase. 🙂

  8. Tam says:

    I never could stand lines. I okay with them now as long as I’m in my chair and not on my feet, so a lot of my problem was just with the pain of having to stand still. I remember playing with the separators a LOT, and they used to have those metal bar separators in restaurants, I remember hanging upside down and getting in a lot of trouble lol… I think when I was younger my biggest problem was just the sheer boredom of having to stand there amidst all those people with nothing to do….

    I used to ‘organize’ the shelves at the cash registers, I’d put everything back in it’s place and make sure all the candy bars or whatever were perfectly lined up, I think I did it just so it would give me something to do. I organized the grocery shelves too when Mom was trying to find coupons and whatnot.

    We always played I Spy and other games in the car to keep us distracted through traffic jams, but there were 3 of us kids so it’s probably a lot easier with more kids (though we fought all the time too, which is hard on the parents and balances out the benefit lol).

    Perhaps your son just feels that a vehicle is made to move, so it makes no sense to sit around in one. Does he have any toys sets that you could use to play-model traffic jams and/or drive-thrus? If he sees what’s happening from a birds-eye view with the toys it may start making more sense to him irl.

    There’s a game called “diner dash” that has you run a little restaurant. It’s a complicated game, so probably not on his level to play, but if he’s the type of kid that will watch over your shoulder while you’re playing a game that may serve a similar purpose. It makes you seat people, take orders, get the food, etc, and he may be able to see through that the reasons why people are waiting in various places in the restaurants.

  9. Teresa says:

    Lines are everywhere! Lines at the airport. Lines at the post office. Lines for communion in our church. Waiting is painful for everyone. You have gotten some really great ideas. What worked best for us was to provide ourselves with major torture and go stand in lines on a very regular basis. It takes consistency but eventually we all got used to them.

    Airplanes were also a big challenge but finally we found the solution. One trip overseas and then the next one to San Francisco and Matthew didn’t even think it was time to pull out his dvd.

    Continued success!

  10. Deanne says:

    I see you’ve already been pointed in the direction of the time-timer 😉 Oliver is the most problematic as far as waiting is concerned. With him we’ve been working on two strategies – one is giving him a wait card. That’s basically the strategy they’re using with your little guy – lots of positive reinforcement for progressively longer periods of time. Oliver is up to 10 minutes now. I would suggest – don’t use it when you’re out, practice when you’re at home and can control how long he has to wait. Once he’s mastered the skill then it will be easier to transfer into real life. The other thing is fidgets – anything that’s proprioceptive work should have a regulating effect. Oliver has a stretch band that he pulls on with his hands and feet when we’re on public transit.

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