Help Your Little One Cope with the Changes to Come in the New School Year
With the new school year starting soon the anticipation of change comes with it. Your little one maybe entering a new grade with a whole new group of peers. Or perhaps your child might be starting a brand new after school activity such as Boys and Girls club, football, etc.
When it comes to coping with change, it can be challenging for many individuals especially when you don’t prepare ahead of time. But when you gear up beforehand, you are likely to see a more favorable outcome. The mantra to remember is to be proactive and not reactive. This couldn’t be truer when it comes to helping an individual with autism manage a new situation.
Prepare. Don’t Just Cope: Newness and a lack of familiarity is daunting for most of us. So when it comes to a young child or someone who may need a little extra help, this life stage change can be very intimidating and terrifying. So here’s a few suggestions on how you can prepare ahead of time for change.
Take the first step by proactively preparing for change before it actually happens. Know what to expect.
Based on your observation, identify gaps in their skills and try shaping their behavior in advance. Use reinforcement extensively to make the new actions/responses or behaviors second nature for the child. Most importantly, consider using priming strategies to ease one into a new scenario/situation/life stage.
Get Proactive, Priming Strategies: Priming, if done correctly, should be easy on the student and will provide an emphasis on the execution of tasks that are simple and not too demanding. It should be done ahead of time before the new activity/change. Use similar materials and structure so that the child knows what to expect. There must be an emphasis on doing this not just once but a few times before the change actually occurs. This will allow reinforcement to be used and to shape the child’s behavior.
There are a number of proactive strategies that can be used such as:
- Including a visual schedule,
- Practicing the change in advance, or
- Using social stories
Practicing with a Visual Schedule: Since consistency plays a large factor in the life of a child it might be helpful to start preparing your child for change with a visual schedule. Create a visual calendar and explain to your child the changes that will be occurring. In this calendar allow time for the child to slowly get accustomed and accommodated to these new changes. For example, change their current schedule to include build-in breaks, morning priming, and work time in an alternative setting.
Practicing Change In Advance: Practicing in advance is another way to get proactive. If a certain story is to be discussed in class, it may help to actually read and discuss it and even formulate elucidate a response ahead of time while your child is at home. If you expect your child to have trouble interacting with other new children at a new school, try do a practice session at home where they introduce themselves.
Using Social Stories: Another way to effectively utilize priming is to use social stories that are rich with illustrations, descriptions, and with details on what to expect in the new/changed scenario. These can be read over and over until the child becomes familiar with it. Such stories can be adapted to each specific child based on their needs. Social stories can also be used to address any questions that the child may have regarding the change.
Familiarity: Children, especially those with autism, thrive on familiarity. There is comfort in routine. And when change happens, it will negatively affect their world. By preparing for change proactively, using priming methods, you will be able to transition what could have been a completely unknown experience into a comfortable and familiar scenario for your little one to step into.