An In-Depth Guide: How to Transition Young Children with Autism
Young children with Autism respond well to structured routines and familiar surroundings. But life has a way of throwing unexpected curve balls, and people need to adapt. Psychologists call this resiliency; the ability to "go with the flow" when things don't go your way. Resiliency is honed in neurotypical children through their development of play and self regulation skills, as well as a sense of humor.Neurotypical children learn to be resilient when they find ways to self soothe, manage stress, and see the humor in unwanted and/or unanticipated situations. The experiences, paired with the vocabulary associated with that event, are stored in their "memory banks" i.e. episodic memory, for later recall and problem solving as needed. For children with autism more work is needed to make he or she more comfortable with transitions. Here are some important transition teaching tips for for young children with autism.
Target Transition Skills EarlyThe opposite of resiliency is transitioning difficulty, often seen in young children with Autism beginning their journey of treatment. It is crucial to target transitioning skills right away, by attempting to both understand the cause(s) and plot a course of action. This is a multi-disciplinary issue that needs to be addressed collaboratively, to address the real culprit; disorientation to time.
Neurological Difficulties Similar to Jet LagChildren with Autism, and special needs for that matter, can have significant neurological difficulty comprehending the concept of time passing. The brain and body may not be in sync, causing hyper-vigilance when living in the moment and fixating on the present, or a disconnected feeling from past/future events. Imagine walking around feeling jet lagged, where your body tells you it's time to eat or sleep, based on your internal body clock, not the the actual time! That's what it can feel like for many of our children. Mix that with possible language delays, unfamiliar routines and/or environments, challenging tasks, and the potential for sensory overload, and you've got a recipe for the tantrum the child with Autism/special needs can exhibit.
How to Counteract Disorientation to TimeTo counteract this disorientation to time, and the subsequent transitioning difficulties we all see so frequently, I suggest 3 strategies to try, in this order, and using a team approach where different people are in the "driver's seat" at various intervals:
- Feed the Need: Implement a sensory diet
- Mark Time: Create a physical time duration map to show the passing of time
- Turn On Helpful Switch: Empower the child and build self esteem