For many, the end of the school year is eagerly anticipated. For others, it's a source of worry. What will happen to my child when his/her routine is disrupted? How will s/he react in new settings or with new people?
So many children look forward to and thrive in the summer: play dates outside, day trips to the lake or beach, summer camps, parties, pools, etc. For other children, those changes in routine can come with unexpected behavior changes and frustration from parents and caregivers. To make those events go more smoothly, here are some things to consider:
· Do I know in what scenarios my child typically has the most difficulty?
· What can I do to help my child know what behaviors are expected?
· Do I know what I will do if my child demonstrates socially inappropriate behaviors during an event?
Just thinking about these questions can help you better prepare your child for what is to come. Since every child is different, the amount of preparation will vary. For some children, a special sticker on the family's calendar may be the only reminder needed. For other students, needs may be a little more involved. If your child has an agenda book, or a visual schedule, the event should be included in written or visual form. For students with more involved anxiety about schedule changes, preparation may have multiple steps. In addition to the steps listed, children with anxiety may benefit from preparation that includes:
· Reviewing what the physical environment of the event or change will be (is it in the student's own school, in a community room, camp, water park, sitter's, etc.)
· What will happen during the event? (games, music, crafts, overall expectations, etc.)
· Will there be meals/refreshments (this is even more important for children who have food allergies or who are on a restricted diet; if a child who is restricted and has behavioral needs sees a preferred item that is NOT on his/her approved list, it could cause an outburst)
· Practice before going to the event (role play at home, role play in the environment if able, visit the site, etc.)
· Come up with ways for your child to appropriately communicate that a break from the event is needed and reinforce his/her using that communication strategy
With all of this being said, every child is different. For example, if you feel confident that your child is not yet ready to go to a busy, loud, crowded water park, trust your instincts. You child may need to start the attempt in smaller, more controlled environments (maybe starting by having a friend over to swim, then moving into going to a friend's house to swim, then adding in more children slowly, etc.). As always, please make sure your child is supervised by a responsible party and share any important information about your child with that person (including what to do when these behaviors occur, who to contact for support or in an emergency, antecedents that may elicit unwanted behaviors, etc.).
"When faced with a challenge, look for a way, not a way out."