A child with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may have greater difficulty in accepting changes of routine. This may be due to their greater need for predictability or difficulty when a pattern of routine is disrupted. Vacations, family visits, or field trips can be over-stimulating and distressing for the child with autism. If this is the case with your child, prepare BEFORE a scheduled change in routine occurs like before school breaks and for summer vacation.
You know your child best; therefore, if your child becomes overly anxious before an event and knowing about it too soon makes the time leading to the event too stressful for him, then shorten the preparation time. Furthermore choose your destination wisely. Choose an event or activity you know your family and child with autism will enjoy and you do not have to be “Keeping up with the Joneses” and go to the most popular places.
Tips to Help a Child with Autism Enjoy a Break in Routine
- Get your child involved in planning your activities during this change in routine. For example Spring Break could be a good time to learn more about your child’s special interests by visiting museums or libraries. Also by planning ahead you may find companies, farms, manufacturing plants. etc. that offer free, guided tours for families.
- Discuss how you will travel and eat while you are away from home. Try to remove any surprises about a vacation or activity so not even the parents become stressed; therefore, phone ahead of time to places you will visit and iron out any problems that may occur. Tell them you are traveling with a child with autism and often accommodations are made to make this child’s visit easier. Kids are quick to pick up when parents are upset and this in turn stresses the child also.
- Long before the break in routine, so your child with autism can prepare the coming changes in his head, have a visual schedule at home and at school with events and activities that are coming up. Prepare “Social Stories” about these activities so your child will know what to expect. These stories should introduce the new vocabulary words they will hear, what the environment is like mentioning any noise, number of people they will see, the size of the building, etc.
- One of these “Social Stories” should be about how to accept a change in plans because events or activities are sometimes cancelled or a family cannot attend them because of sickness or other family emergencies.
- Another topic to prepare for is how to keep your child with autism safe while away from home. You know the dangers of wandering; so have identification for your child and an emergency plan in place ready to act upon if you loose sight of your child.
- Strategies to prepare your child’s break in routine may be presented verbally or visually or both. Use what works best for your child depending if he is a visual or auditory learner.
- Offer lots of support during the time his safe schedule is disrupted. During the break in schedule, be sure to use these techniques before a transition occurs, during a transition if needed, and/or after a transition so your child can express how he feels.
Practice Vacation Scenarios in Advance
You will find the following article very helpful: “Travel Tips for Children with Autism” by By Ruth Manuel-Logan
Let your child know what she might expect to do or see on vacation. Role-playing what might take place during the trip can ease future regrets. Creating a sequential picture story of what will occur is an enlightening and effective tool in getting your child ready for the trip. Experts say that these types of word/picture scenarios can help relieve stress and reduce problem behaviors in children with autism.
“The entire preparation process should be spread out over the course of many weeks. Each day, create a routine where you ‘talk’ about the trip together. You and your child can arrange pictures related to the trip in the order in which the events will occur chronologically. Help your child organize pictures of the hotel or family member’s house where you will be staying into a collage or other visual arrangement. You can even provide a simple explanation or caption for each picture. As the trip nears, your child will be able to help narrate the captions and event descriptions, or affirm your narration,” Dr. Landa says. “You know your child best, so be sure to tailor the amount and complexity of information to his or her needs.”
Dingwall finds that preparing Ryan just a few days before a trip works best for him. If she reveals details about a vacation too far ahead in advance, Ryan will lose sleep because of his anxiety and will also perseverate, a common trait among children with autism, whereby they repeat a certain phrase or action. “We are always prepared with two types of picture schedules — one on Ryan’s iPod Touch, using his picture-based prompting app iPrompts, and the other a backup with pictures and Velcro backings that can easily be switched as needed,” Dingwall says…
Set Aside Down Times for Your Child with Autism
Allow lots of “down time” between activities so your child can decompress. During a long vacation, set aside complete days free from new places, new faces, and new activities so your child does not become overwhelmed, unanchored and feel lost.
Carry with you items that comfort, calm, and relax your child so you can lessen or prevent meltdowns altogether. It can be an age-appropriate chew necklace like KidCompanions Chewelry or SentioCHEWS. These are also available as Clip-ons to attach to a seat belt or safely inside a pocket to be used when the need occurs.
Follow Some Parts of Your Usual Routines
During these break in the “big routine” of things, there are still some little things that you can do that will be in keeping with what your child with autism is accustomed to. Eat the same time each day as before and try to have available the same food your child is familiar with.
Keep your bedtime routine and bed time and wake up times the same. Be sure to have the same bed clothes, comfort blanky or stuffed animal your child likes and even carry around his favorite pillow, blanket, and night light is one is usually used. Bring along favorite snacks, books and toys. These are small things but a good night’s sleep for all members of the family during a break in routine becomes a really BIG thing!
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