Inside Activities to Help Combat Cabin Fever

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

For many of us, a “snow day” can be a welcome day off; a time we can stay at home and do whatever we like. But for children with autism and other developmental disabilities, a snow day can be a difficult-to-deal-with disruption to a familiar and comfortable routine.
With a little advanced planning, however, you can turn an unplanned day at home into an enjoyable experience for both you and your child.
First, prepare him or her for the possibility that regularly scheduled activities may change. Plans are often subject to change for a variety of reasons including weather, illness, or transportation issues, so it’s always good to have a “Plan B.” When the weather forecast calls for significant snow, share that news with your child. If he is able to understand, tell him that school and/or other planned activities may be cancelled, but that there will be other fun activities to do.
Consider the following suggestions when you make your plan:
~ Create a visual representation to depict the kind of day he should expect (snow day, weekend day, doctor’s appointment, etc.). Depending upon your child’s level of understanding, a social story may work well to help explain why schools or activities must be cancelled. A schedule that shows each activity of the day may also be helpful.
~ Prepare a special “stay at home” box. Fill it with a few games your child enjoys, a couple of special books, a new DVD or two, and some favorite music and toys. Make sure this box is only available when plans have changed and your child must stay at home. You will probably need to rotate its contents occasionally so he doesn’t get bored with them.
~ Plan a special craft project. For example, you might decide to decorate your picture window with snowflakes. You could make these snowflakes by folding coffee filters into eighths, then snipping a few shapes into the folds. Depending upon your child’s skill set, you may need to be the one doing the snipping, but he may be able to help with the folding and with decorating the window.
~ You could bring some snow inside and let your son experience its transient magic! Fill a large plastic container with snow, bring it in the house, put it into the bathtub, and let him play with it. Have his mittens and some favorite bath toys and plastic cars or trucks ready so he can have some fun before it melts.
~ Spend some time together in the kitchen making special treats. Cook up some hot cocoa and top it with whipped cream or marshmallows, and/or bake homemade cookies, allowing him to help as much as he is able.
~ Make a special calendar on a wipe-off board that you and your child can draw on (and erase easily). You can put it up in his room and use it to mark off the days until spring.
~ Take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy some “R&R” together: snuggle up in front a favorite movie, or read aloud from one of the special books in the “stay at home” box.
You may need to adapt each of these ideas to your child’s unique needs, allowing him to participate as much as is appropriate for him. Be sure to provide a balance between activity and breaks based on your child’s strengths and preferences. Be mindful that the activities are not too demanding or overwhelming, but that he also has enough to do to keep him busy and happy.
Although a change in routine can be upsetting for a child with special needs, a good back-up plan can turn a disappointing turn of events into unexpected fun. It will require some advanced planning and a little extra work on your part, but it will be well worth the effort, and may help your child learn to be more flexible when plans change.

By Sarah Helm, M.A., BCBA, LABA
May Institute is an award-winning nonprofit organization with more than 65 years of experience in serving children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. May Institute operates four schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, Mass. For more information, call 800-778-7601.