4 Ways to Help Kids with Special Needs Adjust to Change
Guest blogger Liz Matheis went through a season of change after the birth of her third child several months ago. The lessons she learned can be used to help kids with special needs adjust to the changes that accompany a new school year, too.
4 Ways to Help Kids with Special Needs Adjust to Change
Change, change, it’s the season for change! It’s the start of a new school year and another phase of change in the life of your child with special needs. As a parent, I am happy for this transition back to school, although I am sad to say good-bye to summer. I’m ready for the routine and structure that school brings, but for many children, transitions are difficult and frightening. Sometimes a transition such as the winter break around the holidays can be a time of peaking anxiety. For some children, even daily transitions are difficult to process and are faced with much resistance. So, how do you as a parent help your child with an upcoming change in routine, season, holiday, or travel? Anticipate and plan ahead, which will lessen the severity of the change and make it easier to accept.
Keep it the Same… As It’s Becoming Different
When my new baby was born 9 months ago, I knew that the change in our family life was not going to be well received. In the months before, I created a routine for my children and I stuck to it as much as I could. After my son was born, our routine was already in progress and I didn’t want to stray from it. So, we kept the same rules, same bedtime, same rules about TV, and my husband and I had the same behavioral expectations for our two older children. I was very tempted to extend bedtime or to give them an extra dessert because I felt badly that I wasn’t spending as much time with them as I used to, but I knew that I shouldn’t and so I didn’t.
With that said, when you are expecting an impending change in your schedule, stick to your routine so that your child can rely on the familiar amidst the unfamiliar. Making a change to your routine takes another element of your child’s life and makes it even rockier. Don’t feel badly and don’t offer too many exceptions to the rules or special treats to make up for a guilty conscience!
Head to the Library
That’s right, take out your library card and drive on over to the place filled with books about… yes, change! Children tend to relate better to characters in books that are going through a similar experience or having a similar emotional response. Find books about the upcoming change, whether it is traveling on a plan for the first time, a new sibling, or whatever. Ask questions while you read the book like these:
- Has that ever happened to you before?
- The character feels __________.
- How do you think you would feel?
Let your child relate his experience to the character’s and process with your child through simple questions about her fears and worries. If your child is struggling to answer your open-ended question, provide two choices and let her choose one.
Keep it Positive
As you are staying open to your child’s fears and worries, make sure to talk about one or two things that are positive about the upcoming change and keep it tangible! For example, although a trip via plane to Florida is scary, once you are in Florida, you will be able to see palm trees. Or, a new sibling will make things different, but your child will have a new person to play with!
Count Down…or Not
For some children, you may want to take out a calendar and get a count down going. For some children, the countdown may create more anticipatory anxiety, so it is up to you and how you think your child will react to this. Having a countdown helps to quantify and make the time that feels so long before the change happens seem more under his control. Add stickers, draw smiley faces, or whatever else your child seems to like.
As humans, we are creatures of habit. Many of us thrive on routine and familiarity, and dread a change. When I worried within the public and private school system, it took me about 2 weeks to adjust to returning to work in September. I cried about it more than the kids. (They adjusted in 1 week, by the way!) When thinking about a child with special needs, change is especially scary because of the unknown. By using some of the strategies I discussed, it will help take the unknown about what’s about to be new in your child’s life.
How Do You Help Your Kids Adjust to Change?
What are your best tips to help kids adjust to change, at the start of school or any other time of year? Leave a comment in the box.
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Photo Credit: www.freedigitalphotos.net
By Liz Matheis
Dr. Liz Matheis is a clinical psychologist and school psychologist in Parsippany, NJ. She offers support, assessments, and advocacy for children who are managing Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADHD, learning disabilities, and behavioral difficulties, as well as their families. She is also a contributor to several popular magazines. Visit www.psychedconsult.com for more information.
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