As the Covid-19 restrictions begin to lessen, I’m sure we’ve all been thinking about the fun things we are going to do as soon as we can get back out into the community!
As I’ve been making my list of places I plan on visiting, it got me thinking about how much some children with autism struggle to go out in the community, with or without a world pandemic hovering around. This actually makes a lot of sense when you think about how some children with autism struggle to use and understand language coupled with the fact that many have limited interests.
The language issue can impact both what the child understands around them and also how they communicate their needs and interests to others. When we leave our house, we often don’t just grab our keys and run out. We usually have a conversation often well in advance about where we need to go, why we are going there, and when we should go. Again, if I am a child with autism and I have difficulty with language, I might miss all of these important planning steps. Then, while I’m happily playing with a favorite item, someone comes up to me and says, “time to go.” WHAT? You can imagine how confusing and potentially upsetting this might be. Additionally, I might have some places I really want to go…and want to go often. However, it might be that my siblings and those around me may not want to go to those places as often as I do. For example, let’s say I really want to go to the park and would happily go every day of the week. However, my family tires of the park pretty quickly. So in both cases, going when I don’t want to and wanting to only go to certain places, can both cause challenges. So it’s not surprising if your grandchild has difficulty going with you to new places.
So what can you do? As the title suggests, autism grandparents CAN work on this as long as they take small steps. If you have a favorite place you would like to take your grandchild or if you need to run the occasional errand while providing care, here are some steps you can take to work up to a successful trip.
First, it might help to hone in on one or two places as a starting point. It will be important to choose a place that either has few restrictions (such as a park) or a place where you have a relationship with the owner or staff. If you know the owner of a restaurant or store that you would like to teach your grandchild to go to with you, you can reach out to them and let them know that you are trying to help your grandchild have a successful visit there. You can ask about their “slow” times and mention that the child might be most comfortable if he can have his IPAD with him or bring some snacks of his own. In most cases, owners will be agreeable to this and supportive of what you are trying to accomplish and it will ease your stress knowing that you have their support. By going to your family’s favorite restaurant a few times at non-peak hours, this will help the grandchild and all of you to practice how to have a successful trip and more importantly, to enjoy it without too much stress.
Next, you want to find a way to communicate this upcoming trip to your grandchild. This will depend largely on the communication needs of the child. If he/she uses language fairly well, having a conversation about it may be fine. If not, you can use pictures in line with the communication the child uses (do they use sign language, picture communication or maybe a voice-output device?). You can find pictures of your destination online through a simple Google search. You can show the picture to the child while explaining where you are going and what you will be doing there. For example, while showing a picture of your favorite local restaurant, you could say, “This is Antonio’s Pizzeria. We will go there for lunch today. First we can finish playing with toys here at the house, then we will go to Antonio’s Pizzeria.” It can also help to talk to their parents as they or the school likely use strategies such as these to help kiddos with limited communication.
Now, what about Covid-19? You will have to think about how to help your grandchild understand these new restrictions. Here is a great website with links on videos and social stories to help your grandchild understand more about the pandemic restrictions.
As always, use a LOT of praise during this experience to help reinforce all of the great behavior your grandchild is showing. As you take your first initial trips, start small. It will be better to plan a short trip rather than a full day at the mall, for example. Also, pick something you think has the potential of being enjoyable.
Keep in mind, slow and steady wins the race! Keep your focus targeted and look for small wins. Try to leave the location on a good, positive note. As you continue to venture out, you will start to stay at your destination for longer and longer periods of time. It will help your grandchild tremendously to build up to this point.
The following useful link from Autism Speaks will help you learn more about how to venture into the community safely and prepared.
Above all else, have fun!