When your life is primarily visually oriented, it is difficult to think about concepts you cannot physically see, like the future. If you cannot see the future or predict with 100% certainty what is going to happen, then why bother thinking about it? This thought process leads to having to frequently react to unexpected events, also very difficult for people with Autism. There is hope, however. The first step is to help the person to a see their future. On a simple level, this could be showing basic cause and effect relationships through modeling, demonstration, pictures or diagrams. "If you only want to play the game by your rules, then other children are less likely to want to play with you." You can also develop more complex models. "Here are the steps needed to get into college, applying for a job, going on an interview etc.." Listing the steps on paper, poster, dry erase board etc... makes the future concept and steps to be planned out real for the person and because they see them, it makes the ideas be part of the person's awareness.
Regarding anticipation, many of my clients with Autism do anticipate, but they typically anticipate negative outcomes and the negative outcomes are often exaggerated. This is typically referred to as anticipatory anxiety. For those who anticipate the worst, there are a couple of ways to address their fears. The first is "Yes that could happen, but is it LIKELY to happen? If it isn't likely then what is likely to happen?" If the feared action is likely to happen then what can be done to help the situation. Another possibility is to ask what is the best thing that could happen? that will at least balance out the thinking and allow for the possibility if a more moderate response.
With increased planning and positive anticipation, future events can be prepared for and the person with Autism can be on the giving end of the checkmate rather than the receiving end.
Steven C. Altabet, Ph.D.