Changes in routine are often inconvenient for everyone, but for children with ASD, these changes can be particularly frustrating and overwhelming. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prepare your child as a change approaches. Whether dealing with a temporary or permanent change, here are some tips for explaining routine changes to your child.
Talk about it beforehand
When you can foresee a change, be sure to make it known to your child. Explain what is going to be different, what they can do to cope with the change, and how you are willing to help. Answer any questions that they may have, and assure them that everyone experiences unexpected changes.
Use a visual schedule
Visual schedules can be a great tool for children with ASD. Not only will your child be able to see the change in routine ahead of time, but they can also see how the change fits in to their regularly scheduled day. Additionally, visual schedules are very flexible, allowing you to make modifications in the moment when a sudden change is necessary.
First, then statements
Using “first, then” statements can assure your child by making it clear that not every event in their day will be disrupted by a single adjustment. You can use statements like, “First we’re going to wait in line, and then we’ll get our food.” These statements can be incorporated into a visual schedule as well.
Before a change occurs, it can be helpful to promise your child a preferred activity or item after they behave appropriately. You should also reinforce appropriate responses to a change in routine as your child is experiencing the change and afterwards. For instance, verbal praise can be given during an unexpected experience like stopping at the store on the way home from school (“You are doing a great job staying calm while we shop!”), which can then be followed up with a preferred activity or item at home.
For changes that are foreseeable, it may be helpful to practice before it is completely implemented. Walk your child through the novel routine and provide praise for appropriate behavior. Use verbal and visual prompting appropriate for your child and answer their questions. This also provides you the opportunity to see any problems that may need to be resolved before the change is put in to action.