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By Heather Moore, M.S., BCBA
One hallmark symptom of Autism Spectrum Disorders is what is called rigidity or a difficulty in adapting to changing environments. Parents who have children with autism who have trouble with changing environments often find it challenging to go out to regular events (e.g., church, birthday parties, etc.) or even on basic trips with their children. Interestingly enough, success over time is more likely the more children are exposed to appropriate and planned outings. Here are some helpful tips for planning outings or events for your children with autism from our behavior analytic team. As always, it is a good idea to plan these out, be consistent with the plan, and obtain recommendations from your behavior analyst and ABA team.
Give reminders that the outing will be taking place
- If you’re going somewhere completely new describe where you’re going to your child. Expectations are vital to reducing unpredictability.
- Use visuals and pictures if appropriate. Google pictures are excellent to help prepare, but keep it simple.
- Give reminders a few days out and the night before.
- Use social stories with visuals to help predict expectations as well as unforeseen delays.
- Turn each stop into a step. For example: Step 1 – We are going to the grocery store. Step 2 – We need to get gas. Step 3 – We will be going to Chick-Fil-A. This kind of prep allows your child to follow along with each step during the outing and understand when you will be heading home.
Plan for restlessness and boredom during the outing
- Bring activities to use during long waits.
- Involve your child in the activity as much as possible.
- Make the last event or stop something that is worth waiting for.
Be sure they have basic needs met
- Avoid going out during nap times and bedtimes when possible.
- Carry snacks and drinks in case they get hungry while out.
- Use the bathroom before leaving.
Set Expectations and have rewards
- Maintain any existing expectations you have for your child, regardless of your destination. For example, if there is an expectation for appropriately getting your attention, try to continue this in the community.
- Bring any tokens, level systems, favorite toys or snacks, or other preferred items to help keep your expectations the same as at home.
- Bring another adult when possible.
- Try to schedule outings when you won’t be pressed for time or rushed.
- Call the destination and ask questions, like what times are best to visit.
With this expert advice, community outings with your child should get better and better!