Taking your children out on an excursion where everyone has fun can feel like a major accomplishment for any parent. If you have a child with autism spectrum disorder, a successful outing might be even more of a challenge, but just as much of a necessity. Regardless of a child’s level of ability, participating in community outings is a skill that will ultimately enhance her or his quality of life. The following is a list of strategies that can empower you to tackle any outing:
Prepare your child as much as possible. The novelty and unpredictability of an outing can be stressful for children with ASD. Gather specific information about the location, including pictures, travel time and distance, expected level of crowds and noise, and how long you expect to stay. Small deviations from these expected scenarios can provide you with some teachable moments.
Arrive at places right when the doors open in order to avoid crowds. It is best to keep the outing short and leave before the crowds begin to build up. This not only reduces the chances of meltdowns from being over-stimulated, but also helps to ensure greater safety for your child.
Set reasonable expectations for yourself and your child. “Success” might simply be the fact that you managed to go out of the house for 30 minutes. This also means that you will aim to leave on a high note, before your child’s coping reservoir is tapped out. In this way, you are both more likely to have a positive experience and attempt another outing in the near future.
Expect mistakes and know that you can’t prepare for everything. Despite your best efforts, there will always be unexpected things that will blindside you. If something catches you off-guard and leads to your child having a meltdown, you have learned a little bit more about his or her needs and capabilities.
Be up-front and consistent with your child regarding expectations. Write on a piece of paper, in clear and positive terms, exactly what behaviors you expect and what behaviors will not be acceptable. Include a few possible scenarios that will lead to the outing immediately coming to an end. Ask your child to repeat back to you the behavioral expectations.
Putting in the extra effort to prepare your child for an outing will lead to a more positive event, and might increase the likelihood of a successful and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
Hilya Delband, Psy.D, BCBA-D, is director of clinical development and marketing at Working With Autism Inc. in Encino. Learn more at www.workingwithautism.com.