5 Ways to Help a Child With Autism Handle Big Changes
Autism makes transitions—which are hard for any child—especially tough for my 7-year-old son, Liam. He likes routines and thrives in familiar environments, and over the last four years, my husband and I've worked to ease transitions between ordinary changes of activities, like leaving the park or getting ready for a trip. We've been pretty successful and overall, Liam's an adaptable kid, but this last month's been a challenge.
We just moved across the country, driving over 2000 miles to get to our new city. We're living in a much smaller space, we have no family support, and we had to say goodbye to all Liam's familiar (and much loved) teachers and therapists. Because of moving snafus, we ended up leaving our beds and most of Liam's favorite toys, like his bike and crash pad. Additionally, it's been baking hot, so we've spent a lot of time indoors; and, our apartment's in the flight path of the local air show, so Liam faced intense sensory challenges as the Blue Angels buzzed overhead for three days straight.
Not surprisingly, we saw a spike in some of Liam's problem behaviors like screeching and pinching during our first few weeks here. In order to help him find some calm and to ease this huge transition for Liam and our younger son, Eliot, my husband and I are doing five things that are making life much, much easier.
Make a loose schedule for each day
Sure, it's summer time, so we're open to a bit of flexibility each day, but we're also trying to schedule the kids' time. We start the day with a trip to the park after breakfast. Then, we do some reading and academic time, have some play time, and head back to the park. This routine is helping all of us stay on track and lets the kids know what to expect each morning. It also allows my husband and me to get work done and keep our stress low as we trade-off child care.
Talk to the kids about each day's plans and expectations
It's so important to let kids know what to expect during the day and also to let them know what they need to do or how they need to behave. Liam, especially, does much better if I prep him in advance with a short chat about the day's activities.
Even with a schedule and prep, there are still rough transitions. I know things like leaving the splash pad or going to the grocery store are always challenging for both my kids, and so I try to prepare for these transitions by giving them 5-minute warnings, by getting all our stuff gathered so I don't have to fuss with it while I'm helping the kids to the car, and I mentally prepare myself for a bit of struggle through the transition. It's important for me to keep calm, so I can model the behavior for my kids.
Keep some semblance of the normal
Even though we don't have most of our old furniture or toys and we're in a totally new place, we try to keep things as normal as possible. Our kids eat dinner at the same time each night, we have the same bedtime routine as we did in our old home, and we maintain other points of normalcy to help the kids feel stable.
This is maybe the most important way to ease transitions. We try to make the days joy-filled for our kids, and this helps some of the larger changes fade into the background. We've spent a lot of time exploring our new town, and the boys are thrilled when we find new wonders (like this huge sandbox we stumbled across a few days ago).
These five strategies are simple, but they've been working for us, and I'm happy to report that everyone in our house is adjusting better, sleeping better, and generally feeling more comfortable in our new home.
Jamie Pacton lives near Portland where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons, Liam and Eliot. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter @jamiepacton
Image provided by Jamie Pacton