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Helping Autistic Children Deal With Change

Feb 03, 2016

Children who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders take comfort in rituals and routines, and usually don’t welcome change. This “change” can take the form of visitors to the home, leaving the home, eating novel foods, and even changing the order of the routine. According to autism advocate Stephanie Rotondi, children with ASD rely on scheduling and regularity to help them gain a sense of security, especially about what is coming next. Since these children have difficulty dealing with change, parents can adopt certain strategies to help their children cope with change.

Social Stories

This is a great way of informing your child about what is coming up next in their routine and provides an explanation in terms that he or she can comprehend. For instance, a parent can create a story about visiting the doctor. Use words and pictures to describe the entire process of getting ready, leaving the house, arriving at the office, sitting in the lounge, greeting the doctor, etc. End the story positively by saying “After the appointment was finished, we went to play in the park”. A social story will help your child know what change to expect in their routine. It cuts down on surprises and provides reassurance to the child.


Timetables are great aid to show your child what to expect, because it utilizes a visual cue and verbal explanation.  For instance, many children with special needs are anxious about going to school. According to pediatric psychologist Esther Hess, parents can overcome their child’s anxiety about going to school by working as a team to create a transition plan. In a similar example, Hess helped a child with special needs transition to school by creating a routine a month before school began. This routine entailed waking up at a certain time, eating breakfast, bathing, etc. The second part of the plan involved meeting the teacher and becoming familiar with the school. In the final part of the plan, the team helped to create a visual map of the school such as going to the cafeteria, lockers, classrooms, etc. According to Hess, by familiarizing the child with the school and his new routine, they were able to help him transition into school.

Behavior Skills Training

Specialized behavior skills training strategies such as Applied Behavior Analysis, Pivotal Response Training, and Discrete Trial Training can teach a special needs child how to deal with change. These are all really helpful tactics to incorporate to help your child develop the life skills necessary in order to deal with change. Change is inevitable throughout life and developing these skills now will better help them cope.


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