Supporting ASD at home - Helping your child Transition in these times of change
In light of current events around the world we are all seeing major changes in daily lives in very short time frames. For most of us, this brings with it challenges, stresses and anxieties, as we encounter every day with new and difficult restrictions and uncertainties. For the child with ASD, changes to daily routine are detrimental to their sense of normality and security, bringing a unique set of problems. Schools are closed; respite and many other supports, including extended family are no longer accessible. Some parents have lost jobs and face precarious economic futures. All of this together with the closure of recreation amenities can cause major disruption for a child, as this routine is something they depend on. Even going to get the shopping has become a major disruption, long queues, social distancing and for the child with ASD these types of uncertainties bring frustrations and stress which result in unwanted behaviours. As Parents we need to support our children the best way we can.
Keeping the Routine Constant:
Maintaining a routine for everyone is important, but for a child with ASD routine provides predictability and this in turn diminishes stress and frustrations. Continue to get up, get dressed and follow what would be a normal routine as similar as possible to any other school day. Most parents will have experience of ABA, TEACCH, so develop these strategies to reinforce the positive interactions, and promote a reassuring consistent routine for your child. Remember calm and encouraging reinforcements help promote successful transition into these new unfamiliar circumstances.
Using a Visual Daily Schedule:
Most of our schools are providing plans, which are brilliant for helping parents maintain some semblance of normality. For the Child with ASD, Visual Aids can help this transition to “home schooling” for example. Retaining the normality, which the child experiences in their daily setting. TEACCH is based on 5 basic principles, which relate to physical structures referring to the immediate surroundings. So Daily activities are defined by a consistent schedule, which is made possible through various mediums, i.e. drawings, photos, cut out images etc.. Remember your child can help create this schedule; again helping with transitioning and giving ownership to these new and strange circumstances. Having ownership helps to minimise the stress of not understanding. Remember maintaining routine is vital, as the most important functional support for the child with ASD is consistency.
For children where communication is a symptom, PECS can be used to support the positive routines and most parents and children will have experienced this already in school settings. Using pictures to aid communication and minimise frustrations will help you move successfully through this experience. Visual structures work best with most children, so if you don’t have some make some.
Calming Music/Soft Lighting:
As with most of us, when dealing with stress and frustrations, things don’t always run as smoothly as we would like. For the majority of us we learn to manage these emotions, but for the child with ASD, this presents its own challenges. Classical music is a wonderful means of calming a stressful situation, importantly for the child with ASD and reducing other distractions will make this work even better. So having their own personal headphones to listen means they concentrate solely on the music and the calming effects will have a faster response time. Remembering out positive reinforcements during this time is also important, so as the calm ensues – perhaps a drink, or small treat, again reassuring the child that all is well. If there is a private quite area available in our households at the moment, it is useful to bring the child there, dimming lights, or closing blinds helps with this relaxation, and ensures less distraction. Again involve your child, discuss the need for self-regulation of emotions (keep this age appropriate); all the time reinforcing and promoting skills needed for positive transitions in later life. Our children are never to young to begin learning these skills on how to calmly regain ones composure.
Don’t Forget Fresh Air and Exercise!!
Research advises that exercise lowers anxieties, helps with sleep and supports the natural regulation of our bodies and mental systems. Taking short walks outdoors, encouraging your child to run and work of some of those pent up energies. Using a trampoline (age appropriate) can be a great way of burning off excess energies, when we are restricted in movement and space. Engaging in some easy yoga stretches in the garden, with everyone joining in, making this a family affair. This will help to de-stress everyone but also help your child feel included, involved; while promoting a feeling of positivity, security and routine!
Vary the exercise, involve your child drawing on their likes and dislikes, make it interesting and fun!
Face time or Skype:
Remember maintaining routine is key in helping your child transition into life at home during social isolation. So if you normally see Granny and Grandad or other family members everyday – Face time and chat!!
Connecting with people your child normally sees daily is important, it provides that much needed visual reinforcement and reassurance that these people are still available and that they are well. Provides opportunities to engage with people outside of the home, offers outside interests, and reaffirms the love that there are others that care.
Provide opportunities for Quiet time:
Consider your child’s interests, do they enjoy cooking, working with dough; remember these experiences can be relaxing and therapeutic. Rolling dough, making shapes, tasting, smelling and discussing with quiet interactions. Be aware that some children with ASD do not like the feel of certain materials, and smells and sounds can be triggers; so be guided by your child’s sensory barriers. Parents will be aware of these already, and know what is best and what will work, but do encourage your child to try new things – as this can widen the variety of experiences for them.
Block some time during the day for quiet relaxation, depending on the age of the child, perhaps a 30min nap, or quiet time in their room, a short spell of watching TV, reading a book, or reading with Mum or Dad; drawing quietly, working with construction materials etc. The list is endless. Remember “Down Time” is important, particularly after an outdoor activity, or when we are moving closer to bedtime. In providing these types of routines to our child, we are again teaching them how to regulate and preparing them for transitions in our daily routines, and in life.
Importantly – remember that being together for long periods of time can be difficult, so breaks are necessary for you as well as for your child.
About the author
Marguerita Magennis’s industry experience began some time ago when she opened her own preschool, before moving into working with Children with Additional Needs in the field of Educational Psychology. It was the time she spent working in this industry which lead her to focus on changing her career. Marguerita has since worked in all sectors of Education, starting with Preschool, moving into the Primary Sector, Special Needs sector and then to further Education, and Higher Education, now teaching Degree and Masters Students in Portobello Institute.
Marguerita’s career highlights include working with a young child with Autism, and the first time this child spoke and engaged with other children. Read more about Marguerita here
The Autism Awareness distance learning course will provide the student with the knowledge and skills to effectively work with a child with autism in a school, home or social environment. The area of autism has become one of the most highlighted areas of disability in relation to mainstream education in recent years. The aim of this short course is to provide the student with an understanding of the issues involved in the area of autistic spectrum disorders.
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