Having worked as a teacher of children with special needs, as well as a Director of Special Education, I have come to personally know several parents and appreciate the wisdom that they share regarding raising a child with special needs. The following interview is with a teacher friend, Lori, and her advice on preparing a child with Autism in regards to change.
Hi Lori. Please tell us a little about your children and their special needs.
I have a 12 year old girl named Rhiannon, and a 10 year old boy named Aidan. Both of my children are diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified) and are on the Autism spectrum. My daughter’s Autism symptoms are milder than that of my son. While my daughter has her own special needs and requires extra support, my son requires a great deal more effort to assist him in his day-to-day activities.
In regards to Aidan, what has been one of the biggest challenges that you face and what are you doing to address the challenge?
As any parent of a child with Autism knows, routine is KEY! The moment things are out of the normal routine or there’s a change in schedule, often a meltdown is sure to follow! I can’t always anticipate what’s going to happen, but the better prepared I am when I know a change is coming, the better the situation will be.
Oh yes. Change is difficult for many children with Autism.
To prepare my son, there are a couple of ways that I approach a change when I know it’s coming. One way is to write down a schedule so that he can read the order of events. For example, if I decide that I may need to stop at the bank, run in to the store quick, or make another stop on my way home that is outside of the normal routine of picking him up after school, I’ll write down a numbered list in order of the stops that we’re making. This way he knows what to anticipate next and knows that we will eventually be going home. Of course, once I’ve written the list and given it to him, it’s beyond editing at that point! The list is final once it’s in his hands! This visual aid has been a very useful tool that can be used quickly as needed.
Great! Sounds like a schedule has really helped. What else do you do to help Aidan prepare for change?
Another tool that I use often is a social story. Social stories are useful in that they present a social situation that centers around the child and demonstrates how to act appropriately in that situation. I’ve written stories for my son about going to the doctor. I’ve gone as far as to go to the doctor’s office and take pictures of the buildings and staff, as well as taken pictures of Aidan actually engaged appropriately at the doctor’s office to use in a social story later.
Do you use social stories often?
Yes. This past summer Aidan went on his first camping trip. Nights away from home have always been a struggle as they are out of his normal routine and are very upsetting to him. I decided to give it a try this summer and used a social story to prepare him. I went online and downloaded pictures from the campground and included pictures of the three of us in the story. I talked about what camping is and the types of things that we would be doing. He wasn’t receptive of the story at the first reading, particularly when we got to the sleeping in the tent part (he wanted his bed in the story). The social story, coupled with a calendar of when we were going camping, eased his stress of going camping and he really enjoyed himself and slept very well in his sleeping bag in the tent!
Awww! Glad to hear that he enjoyed camping. Is there any other advice that you would like to give other parents of children with Autism?
Parenting children on the Autism spectrum is as exhausting and challenging as it is rewarding. So much of every day is spent supporting, assisting, teaching, and learning with your children. Patience is often tested and at times it can be very stressful. I think parents of children with autism, or any other special needs, often forget about taking care of themselves. I really believe that it’s important to take time out and take care of yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t feel guilty for taking some time to focus on your own needs. You’ll be a better parent for it.
Also, look for support in your community. There are many agencies and/or support groups that can give assistance to families with children with special needs. Plugging in to a network of people who have similar experiences can be a valuable resource as new problems and situations arise.
Thank you Lori for your time and for sharing your experience. It’s quite evident that you love your children very much and that you want them to experience life to its fullest.