Children with autism spectrum disorder often do very well with structured schedules and routines. They like knowing exactly what to expect and what will happen when. However, life can be unpredictable, and sometimes they must adjust to changes in their daily routine. This can be upsetting and throw them off, but there are ways that you can help them to better cope.
Talk it out
One strategy is telling them about changes in their schedule ahead of time. If you know they have a doctor’s appointment after lunch, or you’re going out to dinner as a family instead of eating at home, tell them in advance. Discuss what they can expect and answer any questions they may have.
Using a social story can be a great way of explaining change in a visual way. Use pictures and easily understood terms to talk about what will be happening. You may also want to practice going to a new place or doing an activity before it happens. This can help to reduce anxiety or stress related to new or different activities.
Create a visual schedule that you can adjust accordingly. Your child can see ahead of time what is coming up, and it can remind them of what they should be doing. Occasionally changing things up and introducing new activities can help them to become more flexible and adaptable.
If transitioning from one activity to another is challenging, give cues. Let them know that they have 10 more minutes, five more minutes, one more minute, and so on. If time is hard to grasp, use a Time Timer clock that visually shows the amount of time you set decreasing. Or tell them that they have five more jumps or three more turns until it’s time to switch tasks.
Allow for extra time
If change does occur unexpectedly, realize that your child will need some extra time to adjust. Be patient and use strategies to help them calm down and regain focus. Perhaps keep a favorite toy on hand to help comfort them. Also, be reassuring in what you say, validating their concerns that this is not the norm and redirecting them toward what you want them to do. Remind them that they’ve done this before, or something similar, and everything turned out okay.
Praise your child when they do well handling change, even if it seems minor. Tell them what a great job they did and remind them that they can do it. It’s important that you stay calm and upbeat so that they feel more relaxed.
You can’t always anticipate change, but you can have strategies in place to help deal with it when it happens. Practicing adjusting to new activities or places can help your child to be more flexible and open to change. These are also skills they can work on in therapy and at school. PediaPlex provides individualized therapy to meet your child’s needs and goals and help them to overcome challenges.
Find out how PediaPlex’s wide range of therapies can help children with autism to thrive by calling today.