In Parts 1 and 2 of our "Behavior Update" series, we talked about creating fun distractions to encourage compliance, as well as the importance of routine for children with cognitive delays. But let's face it - life doesn't always go according to plan. Routines need to be modified sometimes.
Explain changes to the routine in advance using a visual aid:
We learned this one the hard way. So hard that it landed us in a week-long intensive feeding clinic in another state! After Christmas one year, our holiday visitors left, and Travis left to go on an international business trip, and suddenly it was myself, Merryn, and Josie alone in a quiet house. Josie's behavior went from bad to worse - especially at mealtime. She refused to eat anything at all for days. Not only did she refuse to eat, but she would throw any plate or cup that got within 2 feet of her.
The behavioral psychologist asked "Did you explain to her what was going to happen between your visitors departing and Dad being gone for a couple of weeks?" Um, no. We sure didn't. Josie was just shy of 4 years old and we didn't really involve her in a big family strategy session about holiday guests and Dad's business travel schedule.
FAIL. MAJOR PARENTAL FAIL.
It's easy to take for granted that Josie is a pretty happy little kid who is off in her own little world playing with her toys and dancing to music. We assume she doesn't understand or care about the details in our lives. But in the example above, her sudden food boycott and defiant dinnerware throwing was her way of saying 'I don't know what is going on. I don't know where my dad disappeared to. I'm confused and scared and unhappy.'
(To read more about our experience at the feeding clinic and how we learned to handle Josie's mealtime behaviors, click HERE and HERE).
Now, when things are going to be out of the ordinary, I make a simple chart like this and we go over it with Josie every day.
Travis travels a fair amount with his job and now, he always sits down and tells Josie that he's leaving and when he'll be back. If we have doctors appointments or visitors coming over, we explain that to Josie, too.
And if it's a really big change happening like moving, starting a new school, or surgery, I will write a more detailed social story. For examples, click HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Even when it seems like your child will not understand, pay attention, or care, it's still worth explaining things. Josie's associate recently told me "It seems like she's not listening and she's off in outer space and then she'll say something relevant that makes me realize she was taking it all in - even when it seemed like she wasn't focused at all."
I make the charts and they work. The more we go over the information, the better Josie handles the change. And when Josie is prepared in advance, she is more likely to be compliant. And when she's compliant, we're all happier. And I drink less. Just kidding...kind of.