Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused
By Brittany Juban, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D
Many of us love New England’s distinct four seasons. After a long summer, we look forward to fall and foliage season, and maybe even the upcoming winter. However, for some children with autism and other developmental disabilities, each new season brings changes that may seem like a disruption to a familiar and comfortable routine.
The best strategy for dealing with any change is to be prepared. First, identify what triggers might impact your child during the change in seasons. For example:
Change of Clothes: Colder weather requires different clothing to stay safe and warm. This can create challenges if your child is sensitive about the clothing he (or she) will wear.
Less Time Outdoors: There may be fewer opportunities for your child to spend time outside during the winter months. This can present challenges for the children whose favorite activities include swimming, biking, running, and just being outside.
Change in Sleep Patterns: As winter approaches, days will become shorter and daylight saving time will end. This might cause a change in sleep cycles that can lead to difficulty focusing in school, learning problems, and possibly behavioral issues.
Snow days: Inclement weather often results in delays, early dismissal, or snow days. These unexpected schedule changes can be very disruptive for routine-oriented children.
Next, consider preparing for these triggers by using the principles of applied behavior analysis, or ABA, to develop a few strategies to help your child. For example:
Pre-teach: Explain to your child what he can expect with the changing of the seasons. Visual aids such as calendars or picture schedules, where you can mark daily changes to your child’s schedule, and social stories can help you in describing potential changes in schedule and what to expect.
Practice: Rehearse the upcoming changes by making small adjustments that you can plan for so when big changes occur, they may have less of an impact. Don’t forget to provide reinforcement (praise or a small treat) when your child successfully tolerates any alteration to his routine – big or small. For example, you might move up his bedtime by 5- or 10-minute increments to help him adjust to the time change. You might also modify his clothing options, one article of clothing at a time, or simply require an extra layer on top of a favorite t-shirt to help him prepare for the colder weather.
Plan: Schedule indoor activities that might interest your child when it is too cold to play outside or when you have some extra time due to inclement weather. This might include prepping activities you can complete at home with your child or researching indoor play centers that can accommodate his needs.
Keep in mind that how you utilize each strategy may vary greatly depending on your child’s cognitive and language ability and tolerance to change. For guidance specific to your child, please contact a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA, for consultation.
Brittany Juban, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LABA is Clinical Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, and our newest school in Chicopee, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit www.mayinstitute.org.