Having family visit is an exciting time! As a grandparent of a child with autism, you may have some concern about how to ensure that your grandchild’s visit is enjoyable for him or her. Most importantly, planning is everything! It will be helpful to think about the following ahead of the visit (many of these tips apply to just about any kiddo, not necessarily just to a kiddo with autism).
Things to have in the house:
Take a peak around your house…do you have some kid-friendly things like legos, coloring sheets/crayons, children's books, or most importantly, do you have things you know your grandchild likes? If not, it would be helpful to get those things. It is helpful to do this because it associates your house with things the child already has an interest in. Transitions can be challenging for some children with autism, often because they do not have the comfort of their routines and belongings in their own home. When they come to your home, you have the opportunity to set up new routines and to provide new experiences. By having some toys to play with and some familiar items already there, it will help create the expectation that this is a place where one can play and enjoy their time. If you aren’t sure what to get, you will need to ask your child. It will likely mean a lot to the parent that you are asking them and showing an interest in making your grandchild as comfortable as possible in your home. A simple, “I am creating a little toy shelf in the den and would love to put some of Ethan’s favorite things there. What does he like these days?” will go a long way.
Schedule of activities:
So now that your grandchild is coming over, what will you all plan to do? It can help so much to have an idea of the itinerary in advance, when possible. Certainly we want all children to learn to be flexible, but if you can, it is great to think of what activities you might do in advance. Even if you plan to have a casual day, you could make a plan that describes how you will play until lunch time, then eat lunch, and then spend time in the backyard. That kind of information can go a long way for someone with autism. As mentioned above, transitions can be tough. And as mentioned in other blogs, the language issues associated with autism can interfere with the child’s ability to understand and accept what is going to be happening. Therefore, making a schedule, even if it is a loose schedule, can be shared with the child in advance of the visit to help them prepare for what lies ahead.
House rules are great! We all have them and for good reason. We have to be careful and rules help ensure everyone’s safety and well being. However, homes aren’t the kinds of places where you normally see a list of rules posted, right? Well this can make it tough on our kiddos with autism. Take this example. If I run through my grandfather’s vegetable garden and he gets mad…I can assume and INFER that there is a rule to NOT run in the vegetable garden. This rule may not have been posted or told to me, but based on my grandfather’s negative reaction, I can infer that this is a rule. This can be super hard for our kiddos with autism. Therefore, setting expectations, going over rules, being explicit about rules (and with all children, not just the kiddo with autism) can help tremendously. Mom and Dad can even go over the rules before coming over to ensure greater success.
With all of the above, it is helpful to let children know when they are doing the right thing. A simple, “thank you so much for keeping your shoes off inside, that rule is important to me” can help express to the child that he/she is meeting expectations. It may seem strange at first to praise a child for doing what seems like a basic task, but research shows that children (kiddos with and without autism) benefit tremendously from regular praise to reinforce their positive actions.