When heading out this summer, be sure you have everything you need before you leave.
Have enough supervisors. You should always have enough adults with you to maintain the safety of your family. You want to make sure there are enough eyes to watch everyone and to ensure there are no wandering children that could possibly get away from you while out and about.
Write it out. As a precaution, I always take a Sharpie marker and write “Autism” and my phone number on the arms and back of the neck of my child with Autism. I also write my phone number on the arms of my other young, typical children as well. Under the pressures of being scared and having to talk to an authority figure at the same time, the chances of remembering our phone number is slim for even my typical functioning children. It also saved me the embarrassment of the loud speaker announcement asking me to come to the office of the Joliet Slammer’s baseball stadium to get my child, since they were able to simply call my cell phone first.
Luckily, we have only needed this safety precaution one time, but had I not done this, who knows when I would have located my child. Because of this simple step, we were reunited with my son quickly. If wandering children are a more serious problem for your family, you can purchase GPS trackers for children with special needs online.
Pack the snacks. With summer comes hot days and more sensory satisfactory. Be prepared with plenty to drink and snack on to avoid the “thirst or hunger tantrums.” I personally keep a small cooler in the car, so we don’t return to boiling hot drinks. I also keep a box of mini-bagged chips and crackers, nothing that melts. When children are hungry or thirsty, they will display more behaviors, so schedule in feeding and snack times into your outing schedule.
Limit it to one outing per day. While park or mall hoping may sound like a blast to you, it may be too much for your special needs child. If you must attend more than one outing on occasion, remember the need for sensory breaks, which can take place anywhere. Sneak out to your car for some quiet time, hide out for 10 minutes in the restroom or take a walk outside. A few scheduled breaks away from the over stimulating environment can be helpful to any child, as it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the energy of exciting events.
Carry communication tools. Keep in mind that your child needs to be able to communicate their needs anywhere. Take the PECS with you if your child uses them. They can easily be attached to key chains with a simple hole punch. If your child has different means of communication, such as a device, don’t leave home without it!
A lack of communication is the number one cause of behaviors amongst special needs children and is certain to get your little one riled up during outings.
Bring sensory items. You can also add any sensory items that are needed to the list of take-alongs, such as chewy jewelry, sensory fidgets, etc. Taking these items can go a long way for a child that depends on them daily. It always pays to be prepared.
You can also begin to teach your child to keep sensory items in their pockets and pull them out when needed. Doing this is simple. When you see your child becoming over stimulated, start by pulling out the sensory item they rely on most. Tell the child, “Oh … you are feeling (insert word of your choice based on your child’s capacity of understanding language). Here, this will help!” and hand them the item. Common examples of words that can easily be inserted to that statement are: anxious, overwhelmed, excited, fidgety, or mad.
Once they have taken to this starting method, move on to prompting them to pull out the sensory item while continuing to make the above statement. Once your prompting can be limited to a gesture (perhaps pointing to the fidget or to the location of the fidget), you can then back off and omit the statement phrase. Eventually you will find your child will begin to utilize the sensory item independently. However, this is a process, and it may take several months. Be patient.
For more information on self-sensory regulation, I recommend looking into this program book: The Zones of Regulation by Leah Kuypers, M. A. Ed., OTR/L. While this curriculum-based book is designed for the use of professionals in various learning settings, it may appeal to parents interested in teaching their child self-regulation strategies, though this will require some modification of learning activities on the parents’ end. If your child has therapists or related professionals in their lives, you can seek their opinion for help on modifying this program to fit your child’s needs at home or on the go.
Come back next week for Summer Tip #4: Kill the Guilt and Ask for a Break. In case you missed them, be sure to read Summer Tip #1: Create a Schedule and Stick to It and Summer Tip#2: Get Out and Try New Things.
– Michelle O’Neill, AHSS Lead Skills Coach and mother to a special needs child, plus 2!