Some families with autism and other special needs find going out into the community very difficult and some even avoid it altogether. If you’re one of those families who spend most of your time at home, here are some great tips for childproofing a home for a child with special needs. A hallmark characteristic of autism and many other developmental disabilities is a propensity toward routine, sameness, and predictability. Leaving the house can raise a great deal of anxiety. There are noises, it can be bright, other people can be very unpredictable, etc. Because staying home all the time is almost impossible for most people, we work hard to help make outings as successful as possible for ourselves and for our children. Here are some ideas to make going out with a child with special needs a little bit easier and more successful for everyone.
Preparing our children for an outing and what’s to be expected can help eliminate a lot of anxiety. Write social stories for each place you regularly visit: grocery stores, doctor offices, post office, park, library, etc. Make a visual schedule so that your child has an idea of what to expect. You can remind the child that you’ll return home after the day’s activity.
Plan your outings and appointments using strategy. Book the first doctor appointment of the day or the first one after lunch so that you’re not sitting too long in a waiting room. Try to avoid the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon (their busiest time). If crowds are too overwhelming for your child, try to determine when a “slow time” would be to go to certain places.
If possible, bring another adult with you for support. As much as we wish we had six hands so that we could get more done, we’ve only got two. Another person can help by pushing a grocery cart, or even escorting your child to the car while you wait (and wait!) in the checkout line. Those of us who’ve had to abandon a full grocery cart know all too well how helpful it wold be to have an extra set of hands and eyes in a store!
Pack a bag of books, snacks, headphones with music, etc. Anything that will appeal to your child and help make her more comfortable. Some children feel safer when they can hold on to their favorite stuffed animal. Others find comfort in fidgets or other sensory toys.
So many of us have seen the stares and felt the judgment of others. It’s okay to explain to others that your child is trying really hard, but is feeling overwhelmed. Some families even print out cards that explain “my child is not misbehaving, my child has autism” or a similar message. Most people will be more compassionate if they understand.
Of course some things are unavoidable, and we might have no choice but to grocery shop on the busiest day and at the busiest time. However, if it’s possible, try to just run one errand at a time until your child becomes more comfortable and at ease with venturing out. Keep trying and help your child become more and more at ease. Keep track of what tips and tricks are working for you and your family in your Birdhouse app. Make notes about what circumstances might contribute to sensory overload, or what seems to help the most to make each outing successful.
Be sure your child know how proud you are of him for trying so hard and for each and every success- even if it’s just five minutes at a time. A little praise always goes a long way!