Prepping for Holiday Chaos
With the changing seasons often come a variety of changes at home. The holiday season is a busy time for many, from travel and shopping to visitors and last-minute scheduling changes. Many people consider this time to be extra stressful, but for children on the autism spectrum, the upheaval of a normal routine can result in more than just a headache.
Every child benefits from a routine. Keeping things predictable at home, in school or when on vacation allows children to feel safe and secure, and many children find it difficult to adjust to breaks from the norm, particularly when there are many changes at once or the child doesn't have the coping skills to help him or her adjust.
In children on the autism spectrum, the love and need for rituals, routines and predictability is a major driving force. Children with autism want control in order to alleviate their fear of the unknown, and sometimes this can lead to difficulties meeting new people, leaving the house, and rearranging a familiar environment. Many children also find it alarming to be confronted with new food choices, making holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas additionally difficult. And because children with autism have trouble generally transitioning, unwrapping a series or new toys or sharing with siblings or cousins might seem entirely out of the question.
Routines allow things to run smoothly when you're getting the kids on the bus or trying to complete homework assignments, but an adamant adherence to any routine can really make life unmanageable. Teaching children to confront their fears and give up some predictability will equip them with valuable skills that go way beyond the holiday season.
Of course, change doesn't happen overnight. Just as with any habit, repetition is key, and the sooner you can start training your children the better. These things are part of a bigger set of skills that your children will be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Setting the Scene
In new and scary scenarios, even most adults appreciate a play-by-play of how things will unfold. At the doctor's office, your physician will explain a procedure before he or she begins, something that helps you to know what to expect. Knowing what to expect gives you the opportunity to prepare a set of tools you'll need to face a situation head-on.
While your child might not be undergoing any major procedures anytime soon, the idea is the same: Setting the scene for an unknown event will ease transitioning when the time comes.
Practicing transitioning and communication will add valuable tools to your child's repertoire, so don't wait until an event arises to practice learning good habits.
Make communicating with your child a habit early on, taking the time to explain even mundane tasks ahead of time. Set a visual timer to help your child more easily understand when a transition will occur, and use calendars or task boards to help children be able to understand abstract concepts in a tangible way.
Give children an opportunity to gather additional information about a new surrounding without the pressure of complete immersion, and practice visualization exercises to help kids approach unfamiliar places or people with confidence.
Pick Your Battles
There's nothing wrong with a little give and take. It's so easy to get hyper-focused on the association between a routine and an inevitable meltdown, that parents sometimes forget that not every habit is necessarily one worth breaking.
We all have routines. Routines, or habits, help us to complete everyday tasks without spending precious brain power on things like backing a car out of a driveway or brushing our teeth. Habits not only help us to become more efficient, they also provide a sense of security, and in people with anxiety, security-driven habits can be much more obvious, such as is the case with stimming.
In people with autism, these types of habits can range from mild to severe. When thinking about managing your child's behavior, it's important to keep a few things in mind:
1. Will this change make my child less anxious or further continue to his or her anxiety?
2. Does this habit affect my child now and will it affect him or her later, whether socially, professionally or otherwise?
3. Does the habit negatively impact others, including family?
4. Is my child's learning impacted?
Praise! Praise! Praise!
Reward is essential when forming new habits or reforming old ones. Your praise, whether verbal or otherwise, it vital wjen it comes to your child's success. Your child needs and values your approval, and attaining verbal praise, hugs or gold stars from you is a crucual piece of the puzzle. Without it, your child will quickly lose direction and drive.
Remember that in addition to rewarding your child's successes, it's just as important to reward his or her attempts. Attempting a new food but spitting it out is no cause for dismay; trying but failing should never be discouraged as failure is critical to learning.