It’s already March which means that Spring Break is approaching quickly. This means that our school-aged learners may be experiencing changes in their daily routine that they may or may not be familiar with. Whether your learner is going to camp, going on vacation, going to a daycare, or whatever the case may be, BCOTB is here to help with some tips for navigating these changes and making the transition as smooth as it possibly can be for your learner.
Dr. Kara Hume from the Indiana Resource Center for Autism stated that “preparing students for the possibility of change, as well as the procedures that will be followed when change occurs, are vital tools in increasing successful transitions.” Whenever your child is out of school for an extended period of time like spring break, many things may change for them from new caregivers to new environments that your child may have not been before like daycare or camp. Whatever the case may be, the tips listed below can be helpful in helping your child adjust to the transition.
Getting ready for the transition
- Set clear expectations– Setting clear expectations with your child can help to make the transition smoother for them. You should consider things such as changes in wakeup times and bedtimes and communicate this with them so they know what to expect. Also, think of what they will be responsible for doing themselves and what you will help them with. Will they be expected to get ready on their own with no assistance or will you be assisting them throughout their entire morning routine? It can be helpful to communicate which parts of the routine they will be responsible for doing by themselves. This can include bathing, brushing their teeth, brushing their hair, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and more. It can also be helpful to set time limits to prevent your child from spending too much time getting ready and potentially arriving late to wherever they need to go.
- Visit the new location– If possible, schedule a time for you and your child to visit the new place that they will be going over spring break. If you can, introduce your child to the people that will be with them each day during the break. This can help them to become more familiar with the environment and people before they actually have to stay there for an extended period of time.
- Use a visual schedule
- As your child begins their spring break and when they return to school after the break, they will experience many changes in their routine. Another way that you can help them is by creating and utilizing a visual schedule. Visual schedules incorporate pictures or symbols that represent each step in your child’s routine. Each picture will typically have text next to it that explains what each step of their routine will be.
- Creating a visual schedule:
- Begin by listing out each step that your child will need to complete throughout their new routine. If you haven’t already done so, make sure that the steps are listed in the order that they will occur throughout the day.
- Add pictures next to each step that represent the action that your child will be doing. For example, a picture of a bathtub next to the “take a bath” step.
- You can separate a piece of paper into 2 columns to add an additional visual support for your child. The first column should represent things that your child still needs to do and the 2nd column should represent things that your child has already finished. If possible, you can laminate each step and add Velcro then place them on the first column in chronological order.
- As your child completes each step of their routine, show them that they can move the picture from the to do column to the finished column. This can help them visualize the things that they have already finished and easily see what step they need to complete next in their routine.
- Use first, then statements– This can be helpful to establish expectations for what your child needs to do or what they can expect to happen. For example, “first get dressed, then come downstairs to eat breakfast.”
- Use social stories– Social stories are shortened versions of a story that are changed into a simplified format that a child can easily understand. A social story describes a social situation, person, skill, event, or concept in terms of relevant cues and appropriate social responses (Gray, 1998).
- Writing a social story:
- Write the social story from the perspective of your child.
- Descriptive sentences– Describe what your child should do and why they should do it. Also explain to your child when the change in routine will take place and who they can expect to see and/or interact with.
- For example, “my new daycare may have new rules for me to follow.”
- Perspective sentences– Describe what other children and/or adults that may be involved could feel or think depending on how your child reacts to the new situation.
- For example, “I may not like the new rules and I may not want to follow them.”
- Directive sentences– Explain what the goal of the story should be to your child. You can do this by explaining what your child is expected to do once they begin their new routine.
- For example, “even if I don’t like the new rules, I should still follow them.”
- Affirmative sentences– Explain a common value or opinion that relates to your child’s situation.
- For example, “it is okay if I feel upset or frustrated when I have to follow new rules that I may not like.”
- Control sentences– These are actions that your child can take or strategies that they can use if they become frustrated or upset while they are in the new environment.
- For example, “if I begin to feel frustrated, I can take deep breath until I feel calm and I can raise my hand if I need help.”
- Cooperative sentences– This can describe how other people in your child’s environment may be expected to respond to your child’s actions.
- For example, “If I raise my hand, Ms. Jenna will come and help me.”
- What to do next:
- Now that you’ve come up with a social story, here’s what you should do next.
- Begin by reading the social story to your child or if your child is able, you can have them read the social story instead. You can begin to discuss the social story with your child a few days before the change in routine is expected to occur.
- Each morning before your child starts their new routine, re-read or have them re-read the social story. This can help your child to know what they can expect and what will be expected of them each day before the routine begins.
- Practice the routine– Once your child knows what to expect when they begin their new routine, it can be helpful to practice the routine beforehand. Practicing the routine can be beneficial in helping your child to adjust to the new routine since they will already have an idea of what to expect the day that spring break actually begins. A few weeks before spring break will start, have your child practice the steps that they will need to do while getting ready in the morning, what they should do once they return home, and what you would like them to do during their bedtime routine if this will be changing as well.
Gray, C. (1998). Social stories 101. The Morning News, 10(1), 2–6.
Hume, K. (2006) Change is good! Supporting students on the autism spectrum when introducing novelty. The Reporter, 11(1), 1-4, 8.
Scattone, D., Wilczynski, S. M., Edwards, R. P., & Rabian, B. (2002). Decreasing disruptive behaviors of children with autism using social stories. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 32(6), 535–543.