Waiting can be hard for any kid, but it can be especially challenging for those with autism who may by hyper-focused on something or not understand social cues very well. When faced with having to wait for what they perceive to be too long – or when doing a task that takes time and attention – they may become frustrated, melt down, or have an emotional outburst. (And, realistically, even kids without autism may have a similar reaction.)
So, what can you do to help teach patience, improve calmness, and support them in working through these trying situations? Here are a few strategies to try:
Be a positive role model. How you respond in challenging situations can influence how your child responds. Do you frequently sigh loudly, roll your eyes, tap your foot, or become upset? Your child notices. Try to be more aware of your own reactions and role model how you would like to see your child react. Talk through why things are taking longer, find fun ways to try to move the process along, or take a few deep breaths to stay calm.
Use timers. Telling your child to “wait a minute” or that they have “5 more minutes” is often meaningless because they do not yet have a strong concept of time. This is when visual aids can be very helpful. If you tell your child you’ll help them in 2 minutes, or bedtime is in 10 minutes, set a timer. They can see the time count down and hear the alarm go off when time is up. This can help reduce interruptions and improve transitions as well.
Find distractions. If the line at the grocery store is taking unusually long, or you’re stuck in traffic, come up with ways to help your child pass the time. Play games like “I Spy” or counting triangles or things that are blue. Have a little kit ready with books, paper and crayons, or a few small toys that they can play with while they wait. Keep their mind engaged with something else so waiting doesn’t seem so long. Help them come up with ways to entertain themselves too.
Use social stories. These stories can help your child to better understand what to expect, and what some appropriate responses are. If you notice they are becoming frustrated, gently remind them to be calm, or use another technique that helps them decompress. While you can’t always predict situations that may test their patience, you can often relate it to other situations or be proactive in intervening.
Try ABA Therapy. ABA therapy can help your child learn to stay sitting for longer periods of time, or progressively work up to multi-step tasks that they may normally lose patience with. By slowly building up their skills, they can learn to function more independently and increase patience. ABA therapy can be used to help your child achieve a wide range of goals.
Remember that building patience takes time, so start slowly and celebrate even small achievements. Talk to the team at PediaPlex to see whether ABA therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, or other services may be beneficial for your child. Combining a variety of approaches can provide more comprehensive support and better meet their needs. Every child is different, and PediaPlex can help you to find what works best for your child.
Are you struggling to find strategies that work for your child with autism? Turn to PediaPlex and find out how we can help.