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.
It can be difficult for some autistic people to sort out what things are okay to say and what things are not okay to say in various social situations. This was true for a high school student I worked with during the past year. William very much enjoyed talking with others, but was asking questions and making comments that were not appreciated by teaching staff. Worse, these comments and questions were causing other students to avoid him rather than include him in social exchanges. Each time teaching staff explained to William that his comment had been offensive and had caused other students to move away from him William would feel bad, say he would not make that comment again and could even come up with alternative comments to use in the future to replace the offensive comment. After two years not much had changed in William’s ability to refrain from using offensive comments or ask questions that were considered rude or inappropriate.
Autistic people may not automatically know how to respond to rhetorical social questions such as “How are you?” or automatically reciprocate in social pleasantries such as “good morning.” This is not because they are rude, obnoxious, don’t care, or any of the other assumed reasons people attribute to this behavior. Instead, it is because all social information is not automatically picked up and used by a person with an autistic brain. The autistic brain simply works differently. Even so, autistic people can learn those things their particular brain hasn’t allowed them to automatically pick up.