Autism and change: Giving Information creates success

Giving Information creates success

Most students love the vacations that are built into the school calendar. They look forward to the absence of the daily routines that guide their lives during the regular school year.  New activities, vacations and unstructured time to play are cherished.

But all those changes are just what makes life difficult for our kids on the autism spectrum.  The new and different events that other students embrace are just the situations that can raise anxiety and create meltdowns for those with ASD.

Of course – use visual tools
Visual strategies are perfect for helping students transition through the changes that are part of vacations and school breaks.  Visual tools are not difficult to use, but the biggest challenge is using them enough.  Here are some examples.

Here’s how to make it better
My favorite “category” of visual tools is visual strategies to give information.  During times of change and transition, it’s important to give enough information.

It’s different from regular activities
Regular routines and schedules have an overall predictability to them.  Even when there are changes or things that are different, there is still a “frame” of familiarity to the activity or the day.

More change requires more information
When the changes are greater, the need for more information increases.  Transition from the regular school schedule to summer vacation is a perfect example.

Here are some suggestions for visual tools to give more information.

1.  Create a calendar that covers at least the time for the whole break from now until the time the student returns to the regular schedule.  That can include information about getting ready for the break and show how long it will be before coming back to the familiar activities.  Understanding when change will end can help reduce anxiety about that change.

2.  Be sure to let him know (visually) what will NOT be happening.  School is not the only activity that may change during a break or vacation time.  Other lessons or therapy or scheduled activities may change too.

3.  Don’t assume kids know the details.  Be sure to include important little things on the calendar.  For example, we may go fishing on Saturday, but we have to go get our worms on Friday.  Put that errand on the calendar or in the schedule of events.  On Monday we are going to leave to drive to Grandma’s house.  But in the days before, we have to go to the store to buy snacks for the car and we’ll be packing our suitcases.  These activities need to be included on the calendar, too.

4.  Collect visual information to plan outings or trips.  Flyers, brochures, menus, advertising circulars, photos and even objects can become part of planning.  Of course, the Internet is a fabulous resource for information, too.  Keep the visual goodies in a book for a folder & use it to plan what will happen.  After the event, the visuals will be useful to support conversation about what already happened.

Here’s the most important part
Vacations and school breaks offer time for new experiences and opportunities.  Unfortunately, these can be tough times for students who experience difficulty with change or with handling new or unexpected activities.

Perhaps the most challenging part is for the communication partners to remember to introduce enough visual supports to guide kids through the new routines and activities. Using visual strategies will help students manage these times more successfully.

Happy Kids-Linda Hodgdon




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