Many children with special needs thrive in an environment with a high degree of predictability, sameness and routine. In the aftermath of a natural disaster life is anything but what our kids need to succeed. Often entire families, neighborhoods or communities are in the flux of confusion, chaos and change and will be for quite some time to come. Putting sameness and routine back into your child’s life as quickly as possible will be helpful. How can you do that when you have no idea what life will hold for you and your family in the days ahead? Here is one simple strategy that can be used in many different ways:
Many children with special needs use a visual schedule to organize their day. A visual schedule shows which activities and the order in which the activities will happen. A visual schedule can map out a big chunk of time such as an entire morning, afternoon or even a whole day. A first/then visual schedule shows what will happen just now (first) and what will happen next (then). (Endow, 2011)
Social understanding and communication are two areas impacted by autism neurology. The way this plays out is different from one autistic individual to the next. Typically, for autistics I have worked with, this means that they do not always pick up social information from the world around them through observation only as most people do. Instead, they sometimes need direct instruction concerning information their autistic neurology doesn’t allow them to automatically pick up and learn.
Many autistic people think visually. As a young child who thought visually I was often thought to be stubborn and insisting upon my own way when in reality I was merely trying to keep ahold of a thought. Today in my work I come in contact with many on the spectrum and see the same phenomenon at work. Let me explain with two examples:
Many autistic students, who have difficulty transitioning from one activity to another, benefit from using a visual schedule in the same interactive way for each transition. Visual schedules provide the means to implement the same transition routine each time the activity changes. Many teachers simply say, “Check your schedule” to signal when it is time for one activity to end and another to begin. Those words serve to initiate the transition routine which the student has learned to complete once initiated without further prompting.