Behavior Therapists: Help Your Child With Autism Keep Their Cool Despite Summer Routine Disruptions
Most families of school-age children are familiar with the “summer slide,” that break in routine that slows the momentum of progress in the long, lazy days of summer. Fort Myers behavior therapists at FOCUS know “the slide” can be especially keen for kids on the autism spectrum because they are so reliant on routine. Routine is often imperative for people with autism not just to thrive, but in some cases to function at all without a massive meltdown.
The two primary areas of struggle for many children with autism:
- Social interactions
- Strong reliance on stability, sameness and repetition.
Many kids get that from the strict schedules they follow at school. Summer poses some challenges on this front, and some days it can feel like episodes come on suddenly and the whole day just unravels. Our FOCUS behavior therapists and occupational therapists will work to help you and your child keep your cool through these episodes – and hopefully even prevent them.
Learning to cope with the unexpected is a necessary life skill, and summer can be a great time to practice skills like self-regulation and coping with difficult transitions. Often the key to detouring around meltdown town is being prepared.
Top five tips from our behavior therapists to give you some ideas:
- Visual schedules. Create a calendar and label the “typical days” this summer (you know you can’t plan every detail, but think of what routines might be the most common). For those days, brainstorm on the elements needed for a visual schedule. These can be as detailed or vague as necessary, depending on what your child struggles with most. A good explanation of visual schedules is offered by the Indiana Resource Center for Autism. It’s essentially the use of icons, photos or words that provides a visual cue before or during a transition to help decrease a challenging behavior. Using these in a variety of settings can help reduce transition times and difficulties, and bolster your child’s independence. Make these cues movable (i.e., pictures with velcro on a yardstick) so your child can see exactly what’s coming up, and you can steel them ahead of time for a change of plans.
- Plan A. Plan B. If you know you’re facing a day with a likelihood of some unpredictability, talk to your child in advance about what is Plan A, Plan B or Plan C, just in case things don’t work out. For instance, if you are planning a pool day, but then a storm rolls in, you’ll have to move on to Plan B. Help your child understand how to form contingency plans by talking it through when the plan needs to be adjusted. When you make sure they understand what will happen if plans change, you can help your child better regulate their reaction and (hopefully) avoid a full-on meltdown.
- Try to avoid bad habits. It can be tempting to rely on that smartphone when you’re trying to get through the chores or just sleep in or relax a bit. Recognize, though, that when you completely chuck the routine and get lax with the screen time, your child is likely to feel overloaded and struggle to self-regulate. As much as possible, at least with meals and sleep time, try to keep it consistent.
- Know the danger signals. Take note of your child’s meltdowns so you can identify patterns and observe the warning signs that they are overloaded and on the verge of losing it. When you do this, you can become adept at recognizing a potential issue and intervene before it explodes.
- Try to keep it positive. Rewarding good behavior – as opposed to punishing bad behavior – is often so much more effective. Our behavior therapists will praise your child five times for every one time they get it right – because praise works! We get that it can be tough when you’re child has been pushing your buttons all day, but the reward of your praise can be enormously motivating for a child – and ultimately makes you feel good too!
We recognize these aren’t one-size-fits all approaches, but we’re here anytime if you have specific questions or concerns with which our ABA therapists can help.
We hope this is the start of a safe summer packed with all the stuff happy memories are made of!
FOCUS offers ABA therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Transition Time: Helping Individuals on the Autism Spectrum Move Successfully from One Activity to Another, By Kara Hume, Ph.D., Indiana Resource Center for Autism
More Blog Entries:
Smartphones & Speech Therapy: A GR8! Combo, May 19, 2018, Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blog