Consistency is important for all children, but for autistic children, consistency is a must. This is especially true across various environments. From home to school, to therapy, to grandparents’ house, for children to thrive they need to know what to expect and what is expected. If that changes everywhere they go, they may become confused, which can lead to maladaptive behaviors such as improper social skills, meltdowns, or aggression.
My autistic son is almost seven years old. Other than home, he attends an autism charter school and spends afternoons with his behavior therapists. We are beyond blessed that he has both fantastic teachers and therapists. But early on, I realized for him, too many adults using too many different words and expecting different things was a barrier to his success. So, we fixed it by proactively getting everyone on the same page.
Here are 5 ways in which you, too, can create consistency for your child across all environments.
Autistic children thrive on routines. And while we do want to help them gain skills to be flexible when life doesn’t go as planned, some routines should stay consistent. My son takes medication three times a day. At first it was a struggle, but we created a routine at home that works. When he started school, we shared that routine with the school nurse. The therapist also uses the same routine. Taking his medication is too important and inconsistency could cause resistance. Consider the important routines in your child’s life and make sure those routines are consistent across all environments.
Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, and other family members are often guilty, in a loving way, of letting things slide. And when parents, teachers, and therapists have worked SO hard to move a child toward success, not keeping expectations in place can led to regression. For example, we set a timer for my son to transition between activities such as mealtimes, shower, and bedtime. The first time he spent the night with his older sister, after the timer went off, he tried to talk her into 5 more minutes before showering. Fortunately, she knew better and she made her sneaky little brother stick to his routine. Had she not, that likely would have followed him home and we would have had problems getting him back to transitioning with the timer.
As parents, we know the reinforcers our children will do anything for; their favorite treats, movies, toys, games, etc. But teachers, therapists and other family members may not. For example, if a teacher offers the students each a Skittle for copying their spelling words, and your child doesn’t like Skittles, the reinforcement is ineffective. Since, for autistic children, positive reinforcement is a way better tool than punishment, everyone interacting with your child needs to know what reinforcers they prefer.
4. Behavior Strategies
Behavior strategies are techniques used to encourage positive behavior. For us, we use strategies such as First/Then, Choices, and Tell, Don’t Ask. I share these simple strategies with everyone who interacts with my son. For example, if his teacher wants him to move from one location to another and asks, “Hey, are you ready for lunch?” isn’t effective. Instead, telling him “Hey, it’s time to move to the table for lunch” works better. Again, you as the parent know which strategies work with your child. Make sure everyone else does, too, and they will have more positive experiences with your child.
Lastly, everyone who interacts with your child should use consistent terminology for important topics. For example, if your child is prone to hitting other children and you’ve decided that the term, “nice hands” helps redirect them, make sure his teachers and therapists use that term instead of something else. On the flipside, ask the teacher what terms he or she uses and adopt those terms at home. Using the same terms will help avoid confusion and reinforce what you are trying to teach.
Hopefully, these suggestions inspire you to reach out to the adults in your child’s life and open a discussion on improving consistency. I promise, it’s a worthwhile conversation.
For more ways to bridge communication, consider creating an About Me brochure. You can find out how, including a template here.
Children need consistency. They feel more stable and confident when routines are set in place. – Anonymous Author