Transitions can be difficult for kids with autism; they thrive on routine and consistency.
As parents who work outside the home, sticking to a routine is a challenge especially during school breaks.
Don’t even get me started on summer vacation. It’s the time of year when all schedules are off. Each day is different and routine is a word rarely uttered.
When we follow a schedule, all is well in our world. When we don’t…well, let’s just say the difference is obvious.
The Sensory Child Gets Organized shares realistic suggestions on how to help your child through transitions.
Whether you’re a parent who loves to schedule or one that lives on whim, these tips are easy enough to incorporate into your day-to-day lives.
Make Transitions Easier for Kids with Autism
1. Keep a Calendar
We keep a calendar in Norrin’s room so we can talk about what we do from one day to the next. (And it also teaches him the days of the week, months and year.) This comes in handy around holiday season. We like to count down to the big day. The calendar also allows Norrin to initiate conversation. There are times when he’ll inquire about what day it is and what we have planned.
I’ll be honest, there are days when we skip the calendar. Some mornings there is just too much to do. But when Norrin is especially anxious about something, we refer to the calendar. Talking him through the transitions of the day eases his anxiety.
2. Follow a Schedule
Norrin does best with a schedule. He likes to know what to anticipate. Creating a schedule doesn’t take much, especially if your child can read. When Norrin comes home from school, the therapist writes down everything they’re going to do on a piece of paper. They cross out each completed activity and move on to the next. For example:
- Table time activity
- Play with iPad
- Table time activity
- Free Time
- Art project
If your child cannot read, you can use a picture schedule. Do2Learn is a great resource site where you can download the pictures you need to create your own.
3. Use a Timer
Timers can be your best friend. We use them all the time with Norrin and they help him move on from one activity to the next. I use the timer on my iPhone. Whenever we go to the playground and I say “10 more minutes,” I set my timer. If I forget, he’ll remind me. When the timer goes off, Norrin knows that the playground is finished and it’s time to leave.
4. Talk Them Through It
I use verbal prompts throughout our day to guide Norrin through activities and transitions. For example, a ‘typical’ child may understand what it means to get ready for school. But for Norrin, there are a lot of steps in the process. So I provide verbal prompts to take him through all the motions of getting ready for school: going to the bathroom, washing up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, and getting his backpack. Prompting Norrin not only eases him through the transition, but gives him a sense of responsibility.
5. Use Your Words
On days when we have a few things going on. I always let Norrin know what to expect.
- “First we’ll go to the supermarket and then we’ll go to the park.”
- “First school and then home.”
- “First we’ll eat dinner and then we’ll eat ice cream.”
By using ‘first‘ and ‘then‘ Norrin understands the sequence of events and it reinforces the schedule.
6. Give Them Time & Be Patient
When moving from one activity to the next, give kids a little extra time to process – especially if it requires a child to follow some kind of directions (like packing a bag or gathering books). If you’re asking a question, give them a few minutes to answer the question.
Believe me, as a mom who works outside the home, our mornings are hectic and I’m tempted to rush Norrin out the door. But I know that the more flustered I become, he’s less likely to follow directions. So I have to constantly remind myself to be patient.
7. Praise Them on a Job Well Done
All kids need praise and encouragement – kids with autism are no different. When Norrin does well, I always tell him so. Waiting and standing still is especially hard for Norrin. Moving from one activity to the next can be disruptive and challenging. So when he does a good job of waiting and when he transitions with ease, I make a big deal out of it. I want him to understand that following directions is a good thing. Norrin always asks how I feel and I love nothing more than telling him I feel proud.