Fall is a great time of the year. The air is fresh, the leaves are chaning colour and there are lots of fun family activities to do on the weekends. What can be wrong with family, fun, fresh air and lots of activity? Nothing, unless you have a special needs child who can get overstimulated with too much of a good thing.
I've been there and done that so many times. Every time I ask myself why I didn't anticipate such problems, as the day could have gone so much more smoothly if I had. Maybe our family could even have had fun.
I used to vow to myself that I would remember to anticipate difficulties every time we went out for a "fun" afternoon -- be it apple-picking, going to a park, or attending a family gathering -- and instead it ended up in a meltdown for all of us.
Finally, I'd had enough. I compiled a short list of dos and do-nots in my head, and started following them. That's when I decided I needed to write them down and tell other parents about them. Maybe they would avoid making the same mistakes I'd made. So, moms and dads, here are my ways to make fall activities more enjoyable for your special needs child:
1) Write a "social story" about the upcoming outing or party Keep it simple. Write about what's going to happen, who's going to be there, how long it will last and include appropriate and inappropriate responses on their part.
2) Have consequences and actions in place for unacceptable behaviour in advance Remind your child about manners and the consequences for not following rules. If you give your child a set number of chances, make it clear how many they have-- one, two, or three -- before they're in trouble.
3) Get to your destination as early as possible in the day. All kids, but especially children with challenges, do better in the earlier part of the day. If it's a late afternoon party, make sure your child is as rested and calm as can be beforehand. Also, have healthy snacks to keep their energy up. You want to guarantee as much success as is possible.
4) Make sure that they are dressed appropriately Try light clothes for hot weather, heavy clothes for cooler weather and -- in the case of some children who face sensory issues and wear many layers -- that they can take their clothes off and on easily. A cold or overheated child can have many behavioural outbursts.
5) Make sure to bring security toys for their sensory needs If they need them, give headphones to kids who don't like noise or chewing gum/chewie toys for anxious children. Remember not to stay too long. If you see the signs that your child is getting in over their head, have a "safe place" for them to calm down. As a parent, it's important to remember to stay calm yourself.
While these points are common sense, it is amazing how quickly we all forget to put them into play as special needs parents when we ourselves are under stress. It is important to remember that by keeping our kids back from activities, we don't only do them harm by not exposing them to different experiences, we also deprive ourselves and the rest of our family from good, old-fashioned family fun.
I used to be one of those overprotective parents when it came to my special needs son. Not anymore. Now, within reason, I take some risks when I see that he and we (my husband and I) are up for it. I have to say that our adventures as a family have gotten better for the most part.
I hope you find these tips helpful for your family, and remember, don't be afraid to get out there and enjoy the many beautiful things fall has to offer. It's in exposing our kids to the world that they benefit from positive family memories which will linger long after the event has passed.
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