Written by Judy Endow, MSW
For an autistic, getting through the holiday time can be tricky. For me, as an autistic parent with children who had different needs, it was even trickier. But routine and structure can go a long way toward making things easier! They anchor days, which can otherwise be perceived by an autism neurology as totally chaotic and, in turn, lead to being overwhelmed and experiencing meltdowns.
1. Start by creating a visual schedule. You can simply use paper and pencil or use an iPad or computer to make your visual schedule. Words can be visuals for readers. For nonreaders, turn the words into pictures by simply taking a photo of a given activity.
Directions for making the visual schedule I like to use:
Materials: construction paper in two different colors, sticky magnetic strips, scissors, marker, refrigerator or some other surface that can be used to build a magnetic schedule, such as a cookie sheet.
First, put a sticky magnetic strip on the backs of two different-colored pieces of construction paper.
Cut the paper into strips, following the dotted lines in the diagram below.
Next, write down the stable, routine things that happen every day on the fronts of one color of strips. On the other color of strips, write in the novel activities of the day.
2. Place the visual schedule strips onto a magnetic surface (such as a refrigerator or a cookie sheet). Line up the day’s activities in the order in which they will happen. Start by anchoring the day with the stable routines that happen every day, such as getting dressed, brushing teeth, mealtimes, bedtime routine and whatever else you do every day.
3. Leave space for inserting chunks of time between the stable routines for the changing or novel activities. For example, sometimes you will not know in the morning what activities will happen between lunch and dinner, but you have made a visual space – a placeholder – where the activity can be inserted when the time comes. At other times, you may have put an activity on the schedule such as building a snowman, but when the time comes it cannot happen because a relative stopped by to visit. When this happens you can show it by moving building the snowman to another spot or maybe another day and inserting a strip showing that visiting relatives will happen just now.
Lining up the schedule this way allows everyone to see the stable routine – in this case the green strips – that occur each day. It also gives structure to allow for incorporating the novel activities that occur during the holiday season.
4. Typically, the schedule is built in the morning, but some children benefit from building the schedule for the next day at bedtime so they know what will be coming in the morning. Use the visual schedule in the way that benefits your child most. Think it through before you begin so you don’t have to make changes along the way, as many children do not want to change the way the visual works once they have started using it.
With a visual routine and structure in place, novel activities are more likely to be accepted and meltdowns minimized. As a result, everybody in the family is likely to have a happier holiday!
Endow, J. (2011). Practical strategies for stabilizing students with classic autism to be ready to learn: Getting to go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Reprinted with permission from Judy Endow at Aspects of Autism http://www.judyendow.com/visual-supports/autism-and-holiday-schedules/