If your child is affected by an autism spectrum disorder, you may have discovered that he or she finds comfort in the predictable patterns of things that occur each day. For many children with autism, even small changes in their routine or environment can dramatically affect them. Change can make them anxious, angry, fearful or distressed.
As you journey through this lifelong process of learning how best to relate to your child and how to meet their individual needs, there are some tools that may help you manage the day-to-day challenges.
Here are five tips from our experts at the Developmental Center for Infants and Children/Early Steps that can help you and your child transition through the activities you do each and every day.
Use a picture schedule
Use pictures to describe the activities your child will experience throughout the day. Draw these activities on a white board and talk your child through them. They can see and anticipate what’s going to happen next, which can help ease the discomfort of the transition. Also, by labeling and identifying the action words associated with their daily activity, you are enhancing their language development.
Consider using an egg or sand timer
For some kids, a timer serves as a helpful, visual reminder that a transition is occurring soon. It’s not for everyone, though. Some children may get preoccupied with the time and find it difficult to focus on the activity itself. Give it a try and see if it’s helpful for your child.
Tell a social story
A social story is a tool that can be helpful in teaching a child appropriate responses in various social or interpersonal situations. Think of a situation where your child is struggling. As an example, your child might struggle with sharing with other children in the classroom.
Tell a story that describes the situation in detail (pictures may even be helpful). Explain the social cues that other children may be showing that would indicate to your child that another was interested in the toy he is playing with. Acknowledge your child’s perspective that he might not want to share the toy. Explain the other child’s feelings of curiosity. Use the time not to force a change in behavior, but simply to enhance your child’s understanding of what is happening around him. The better he understands, the more capable he will become of navigating these challenges.
Address the child’s individual sensory issues
Some children have difficulty transitioning because of the way they perceive sights, sounds or touch. They can be more sensitive to them or less responsive to them. For example, if a child is sensitive to loud sounds, using a bell to indicate that an activity is over may not be the best idea for that particular child. Having a specific area or room where your child can relax or doing calming activities with your child can help.
Allow appropriate time for transition
It is as simple as that! No one wants to be rushed, especially if it is a new activity or something outside of your routine.
Having consistent, structured routines with your child is comforting and reassuring to him or her. However, life doesn’t always allow us to be consistent, and having consistency and structure all the time isn’t ideal, either. When routines change, your child may have anxiety about it and resist or act out because of it. Whenever possible, try to talk about the changes that are coming ahead of time and what these changes will mean for your child. Let them ask questions, and give them time to think and process what you are saying.
Most importantly, pay attention to your child’s cues, and you will know what will work best in your home.