Does your child have a meltdown or seem riddled with anxiety when it is time to move on to the next activity? or when you change the sequence of events when running errands in the community? or when you decide to add an extra stop or take a different route to the grandparents house? You can help your child avoid meltdowns related to transitions occurring throughout the day.
Preparing your child for transitions takes only a few minutes of your time and decreases energy draining meltdowns and potentially injurious tantrums! Most children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrate heightened levels of anxiety before and during transition – for our purpose transition refers to change in activity or events.
Preparing your child for a transition or change requires making the next activity visible and predictable. Research indicates that the majority of children with autism exhibit strong visual learning styles and concrete thinking processes. Many children think in pictures and respond quicker to pictures and visual images than verbal directions or demands.
If your child is not a reader or an emerging reader, constructing meaning from pictures or photographs may be a more successful than attempting to decipher and construct meaning from a set of abstract lines and circles that make up the written language.
If your child exhibits echolalic speech, providing visual information can be readily understood and may be a useful tool to make the daily activities predictable.
Creating a visual activity schedule can support your child in moving calmly from one activity to the next throughout the day. Creating an activity schedule requires a visual format that your child understands or can easily learn, such as objects, photographs, pictures, or written words and a way to keep track of what is finished and what is next.
It is important to teach your child the meaning of the pictures and the use of the schedule. In the beginning you may want to start with two pictures, FIRST do this – THEN this. When the FIRST activity is completed teach your child “finished” and then help him/her remove it and place the schedule in a finished box or envelope style pocket. Then direct attention to the NEXT picture and repeat the removal of the card to the FINISHED box.
When the FIRST-THEN concept is mastered you can begin adding one new schedule card at a time. Remember, your child must assign meaning to the picture, object, or word. In time your child will be able to interact with the schedule without your assistance. Consistency in use is a prime key.