Change is hard for everyone, but it can be especially challenging for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health lists “restrictive and repetitive behaviors,” including struggling with small changes in routine, as one of the main symptoms of ASD.
This shows that transition challenges are difficult to avoid in the lives of children with ASD, but it also shows that you are not alone in facing difficult transitions. Luckily, you are not only in good company, but you are living in a society with a wide variety of science-backed suggestions to help ease the challenge of transitions. In this article, we will look into both daily transition tips and larger, life transition support for children with ASD.
Our children go through countless transitions every single day. Transitions start right away in the morning as we move through waking up, preparing for the day, eating breakfast, and leaving for work or school. Children in school transition for a large portion of their day. Transitions even occur in events as small as cleaning up toys. These are normal, daily tasks, but if you observe your child closely, you may notice that these small changes bring out larger challenges. Both visual and verbal support can benefit your child during these times.
The simplest way to help your child through daily transitions is to keep a familiar routine and verbally guide your child through it. Tell your child when an activity is about to end, and remind them what is coming next. Terms such as, “Five more minutes” and “First this, then that” may be helpful in easing challenging transitions.
Visual aids can provide a significant level of support to your child as well. Consider using a schedule with images of each activity, so your child can visually see what activity or event is coming nest. You can also create a “First/Then” chart, where your child moves a magnet or an image attached to velcro from one activity to the other, to show they must complete one task before the other can begin.
Many times throughout life, you and your child will face a much bigger transition than those that happen every day. These life transitions may include moving to a new home, or adding a younger sibling to the family. These transitions may be difficult, but they can again be eased through both visual and verbal support.
One of the easiest ways to prepare your child with ASD for larger transitions is to talk to them about the future event. Give your child time to get used to the idea of the change. Start the conversation early, let them know what is going to happen and how it will affect them, and tell them when the change will be taking place.
Brainstorm and discuss parts of the change that may be challenging for your child. For example, if you are moving to a new home, remember that this will affect the placement and order of your child’s belongings. Let your child know that their belongings will be coming with you on the journey, and that you will help them set them up in a similar or identical order in their new space. Explain to them that their furniture will come with, so they will sleep in the same bed and their clothes will stay in the same drawers. Let them know that the walls, floors, windows, and other parts of the home’s structure will be the pieces that change.
If the change will include new noises, consider playing recordings to allow your child time to adapt to the new sensory input. For example, for a new baby, you could play the sound of a baby crying. This will allow you to see how your child will react to the noise, so you can be prepared with noise-cancelling headphones or a sound machine if needed It also introduces the sound to your child, so it does not come as a shock during an already difficult time.
When you are explaining to your child when the big change will take place, consider using visual aids. Circle the day of transition on a calendar, and cross each day off as you count down. Make this an exciting moment of the day, so the transition can be looked forward to with positive anticipation.
It may help to show your child images of the change as well. If you are moving to a new home, show pictures of the home and their new bedroom. If you’re adding a baby to the family, show your child images of newborn babies, or draw family pictures that include the new baby. Show your child a picture of you with them when they were younger, to share the idea that families change over time. This can introduce your child to the idea of the change in a positive way that is easier to understand than verbal information alone.
Social Stories can be a strong visual tool as well. These stories, often used in a therapy setting, provide verbal information and visual details that introduce an event, along with appropriate behavior and social cues, to your child. You can purchase a social story or make one yourself.
Supporting Sensory Needs Through Transitions
One of the most important things to keep in mind when preparing for transitions, both small and large, is that they may lead to sensory overload or underload. You can help by being prepared with a transition object or a well-loved sensory tool. Chews, for example, are a great tool to provide oral stimulation, comfort, and support during these challenging times.
At Chubuddy, we have a chew for every chewer. We provide light, medium, and heavy chews to help chewers of all kinds, and we would be glad to help your child navigate challenging transitions. Our chew bracelets and necklaces, or a chew that fits your child’s needs with a chew holder, are solid supports in transitions as they stay nearby at all times. A Chew in Need is a friend indeed!