8 Tips to Help Make Program Breaks More Successful for Your Child With Autism and the Entire Family

8 Tips to Help Make Program Breaks More Successful for Your Child With Autism and the Entire Family  

Looking forward to program breaks with your family? NSSA’s Director of Clinical Services, Jayne Eaton Bove, recommends tips for parents of children with autism to make program breaks more successful.

1.    Plan ahead.  Children with autism do best when their days are structured.  Do your research well in advance and look for programs that may be available for your child to attend when their school or day program are not in session.  In addition, find places and activities that they may enjoy and put them on the calendar well in advance.  Planning ahead avoids last minute chaos and allows time to review the calendar and prepare your child ahead of time.

2.    Maintain and follow through on any systems already being used in the home (i.e., behavior intervention plans, use of token systems, choice boards, etc.). Continuity is key, without it confusion and frustration can quickly build.

3.    Prior to a vacation period, and whenever possible, schedule time to meet with and observe the professionals working directly with your child. Watch them implementing goals and working through challenging behaviors.  It’s an invaluable resource for you to learn and empower yourself to do the same.

4.    Ask your child’s team to help you find ways to generalize and maintain the skills your child has already learned into your daily family life.   (i.e., food shopping, movies, running errands, household chores etc.).  By doing this you will not only make these skills more functional for your child but also keep them engaged in activities throughout each day.

5.    Be prepared.  Always have reinforcers at hand wherever you may be.  Don’t miss any opportunity to reinforce appropriate behavior and reward the use of emerging skills.  Just because your child’s program is not in session doesn’t mean there aren’t an infinite number of opportunities for them to learn throughout each day.

6.    Be mentally prepared – know your child’s limits and know what you want to reinforce.  Prior to going out, think about what your child is already capable of doing and don’t put them in situations that exceed that limit.  For example, if your child is capable of waiting successfully for 10 minutes, don’t go to a restaurant that has a 30-minute wait for a table (even if it is their favorite place to eat).  And if you do, bring an activity they can enjoy while waiting and remember to reinforce frequently for waiting appropriately along the way.  Don’t wait until your child is having a meltdown to offer something preferred to them.  You are only reinforcing the melt down and increasing the likelihood of your child having another one the next time you are in a similar situation.

7.    Set reasonable goals and expectations! When deciding what to reinforce your child for, look at what they have already been able to demonstrate and prompt them to give you just a little more, but not too much.  You don’t want to set your child and yourself up for failure.  For example, when eating dinner at the table, don’t have them sit for an hour if your child has in the past only been able to sit for 15 minutes.  Push a little past 15 minutes and reinforce the progress!

8.    Catch your child being good! As parents we tend to pay more attention to our children when they are doing something inappropriate than when they are behaving appropriately. Make it a priority to reinforce the “good” behavior frequently and with something meaningful paired with praise (not every child is reinforced by praise alone).  You’ll be sending a clear message that being “good” really pays off.

(published Feb. 7, 2018)