Posted by Brandiann Cornell on Jan 17, 2020 7:46:18 PM
Being a little flexible with our plans comes easy to most people. Expecting a successful day when raising a child with autism, however, means letting go of most of that flexibility and planning your heart out.
For most kids on the spectrum, if they could do the same thing every day for the rest of their lives, they’d be completely fine with it. That rigid inflexibility is part of being on the spectrum. For me, I define successful days by the extent to which I have encouraged my child, Andrew, to be flexible.
Communication is key to planning a successful day for parents with a child on the spectrum. You need to know your plan and be able to communicate it with your child. Follow the plan, and don’t do anything by surprise.
On the way to school in the morning, Andrew and I spend a lot of time talking about what his day is going to look like. That way, when I pick him up afterward, I’ll say, “Remember the plan? This is what we’re going to do.” We break the day down into steps so that he knows what to expect.
But even when I plan the day out completely, I might forget some of the details, like the other day when we had to take Andrew’s sister, Abby, to the doctor. I told him that Abby would be getting a shot, but I didn’t say anything about the rest of the appointment. So, throughout the entire appointment, he kept asking when Abby was getting her shot. He focuses on what I told him was going to happen. That’s just the way his mind works.
Your best chance of being successful—whether it’s short-term, long-term, or just going to the grocery store—is to talk about what’s going on. If we’re buying groceries, I’ll say to Andrew, “We’re going to get our bananas, our milk, and then we’re going to check out.” That way, he knows the plan and there aren’t any surprises that might throw him off.
Planning tools help a lot, too. You can keep yourself organized with a planner and visual boards, but if your child isn’t old enough to read or understand the calendar, that won’t really help them. We’ve created visual schedules for Andrew. A list of steps and routines that need to get done before we leave the house in the morning or go to bed at night keeps us out of a mad panic when it comes to getting through our daily activities.
Andrew invited by the Captain to check out the pit!
Before we go somewhere new, we always make a discovery list. Andrew has questions whenever we go somewhere unfamiliar, and I don’t always have all of the answers. So, we make a list of things that we’re going to discover. If we’re going camping and Andrew wants to know how deep the river at the campground is, I’ll say, “That’s a great item to put on our discovery list,” and we figure it out together once we get there.
Andrew has a curious nature about him, and part of our success comes down to cultivating that curiosity. I think that goes for any child on the spectrum. You cultivate their curiosity by engaging them with everything that’s going on. At the same time, you are communicating with them constantly, so there are no surprises.
It all comes down to managing expectations. Have your toolbox stuffed with things that will help prepare your child for what’s coming next. For us, Blippy helps with that.
As much as that show makes me crazy, it actually helps Andrew prepare for certain things. Blippy has an episode with an indoor playground, which I used to help prepare Andrew for our own trip to an indoor playground. Similar TV shows or YouTube videos can help children with autism visualize what a place is going to look like before you get there. Communicate and manage expectations, and you shouldn’t have any problems.
I travel a lot for work, and Andrew has a natural curiosity about it. Parents of children on the spectrum need to be able to feed this curiosity with as much control as possible so that it becomes a positive experience and they want to do it again.
For our first airplane trip with Andrew, we decided to take a nighttime flight. This way, the airports weren’t as busy, and while he got to experience the excitement of getting onto and off of the plane, he slept through most of the flight.
But we still had to prepare him in advance for the process. Explaining everything to him step by step is the best way to prepare him. First, we need to park the car in the parking garage. Well, what does that mean? He’s never done that before, so we explain it. Then, we’ll get to the airport and have to wait in line. We explain that he’ll have to go through security, and there might be a dog that he can’t touch, and we explain why.
We explain that he’ll have to tell them his name and his age and who his parents are. We tell him that he might have to take his shoes off before he goes through security, and we explain that he’s going to have to walk through a machine. We explain every part of the process in detail so he doesn’t get surprised or overwhelmed. And we make it sound fun so he’s engaged and excited.
Planning for a successful extended trip also means not over-planning. If your trip is a whirlwind of one activity after another, you and your child are going to get stressed. If everything is going well and you think you can handle another trip to the beach or to an amusement park, you can always throw that in there. But plan for downtime so nobody gets overwhelmed.
The key to planning a successful day is just that: planning, and plenty of communication. The only way we are going to see Andrew grow up to be a functional and successful adult is if we encourage him to be flexible. Encourage your child’s flexibility, but make sure they’re comfortable with spreading their wings by first giving them the building blocks to succeed.
By Brandiann Cornell
“I wouldn’t change you for the world, but I would change the world for you”
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