We have been using these terrific tricks for years to help our kids understand what to expect in the day and cut down on the meltdowns. From giving visual cues to talking about what’s going to happen throughout the day, giving our sensory kids predictability and a sense of control over what’s coming can make a world of difference for them and for you.
Today, on The Sensory Spectrum’s Voices of SPD series, Wendy from Not a Cookie-Cutter Mom talks about the amazing changes she saw when she set up a system to create predictability for her son. This post contains affiliate links.
How to Create Predictability for a Child With Sensory Differences
My son woke up Tuesday morning with a scowl on his face, yelling at his sister for sitting in the wrong spot on the couch, and cursed Netflix for apparently deleting his favorite show. The rest of the day looked pretty similar, nothing was “perfect” everything was “stupid” and there wasn’t much that anyone could do about it.
Wednesday, however, was a beautiful day. He woke up with a smile on his face, ready to give me a hug. The first words out of his mouth were “I’m so happy Netflix is working today!” (by the way, it hasn’t ever “stopped” working!) He was calm, thoughtful, reasonable, and absolutely a dream.
The difference? Aside from trying to guess that the stars were all in alignment, the earth was apparently spinning on its axis again, or the happy gnomes needed to visit him more often, the answer lies in a predictable environment.
I read research about the importance of creating a predictable environment, to summarize the research (in various different books, and websites) I read;
The world can be a very disorienting, bombarding, stressful place for any child, but especially a child with sensory differences. Different stimuli are constantly bombarding sensory kids who are over registering or under registering everything around them and working hard to bring themselves back to self-regulation. Doing this constantly throughout the day takes a lot of energy and mental preparation, leaving little room for flexibility and spontaneity. A new environment can bring in new stimuli that may not be dealt with easily, by implementing a clear schedule, set routines, and allowing time for transitions, a child has time to prepare for any changes and knows what will be expected of him.
After reading this it all made sense! My child needs to have more control over his environment! Since then we have been more proactive and have implemented simple routines, schedules, and transitions. I still can’t believe how easy it is, and the positive impact it has on him! It’s like discovering the secret to happiness! I absolutely love it.My child needs to have more control over his environment! Click To Tweet
As a former teacher, I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t outline the elements to creating successful transitions, schedules, and routines, so here they are:
- state clear expectations (keep them simple, no more than 5)
- state a goal or reason for the activity
- state a clear beginning and an end
A routine in the grocery store could look like this;
- expectations; 1. no running 2. no screaming 3. no touching (people or things) 4. stay where you can see the cart. If the rules are broken, child is placed in the cart with a buckle on for the remainder of the grocery store experience.
- reasons; safety, respect other people by staying out of their way and keeping quiet
- beginning; when we walk through the door, end, after we unload the cart
My son LOVES knowing his schedule during the day. Before implementing a clear schedule, he would frequently ask me about what we were going to do today, what was going to happen next, etc. I would always answer his questions, but too often it was too late (in the car on the way to the store) and he would freak out.Now I take time at least three times a day to talk about our schedule. Click To Tweet
Now I take time at least three times a day to talk about our schedule. When he wakes up I sit with him, give him a bear hug and talk about our morning. In the car on the way home (in the afternoon) we talk about the afternoon events. Before he goes to sleep I snuggle him up in his favorite blankets and we talk about the events of the next day. I like talking to him when he is “snuggled up” or strapped in, because he is getting a little extra dose of “feel good” while we talk about the things we will do. It is such an easy thing to do, but the effects on him are amazing! Knowing his schedule seems to give him a sense of empowerment, as if he has control over that one particular event and can handle it. He rarely asks me now what we are going to do next because I am reminding him often enough that he doesn’t need it.
Personally, we do verbal reminders in our house, as I am HORRIBLE at sticking with any kind of chart. As a former special education teacher, however, I do know that most kids prefer visual schedules (I DID use them when I was teaching). I found a user-friendly website where visual schedules can be created here, for those who want to do them.
I watched a mom the other day who was dropping her son off at daycare. She said “I am leaving now, I love you, after a while crocodile” then gave him a kiss. It was cute and her son engaged in it, but then she sat next to him and repeated it at least five times. By the time she got up and left, he threw a fit, screamed, and tried to block her from leaving. There was a breakdown in her transition which created UNpredictable situation for her son who then threw a fit. A successful transition needs to have the following components;
1. a clear beginning (time limit)
2. clear expectations
Using that same situation the mom could have, pulled up to preschool, told her son that she would 1. walk him to class (beginning) 2. help him sit at his chair (expectations of her) 3. tell him goodbye (expectations of her) 4. give him a kiss (expectations of her) 5. leave (closure). She would be wise to have her son hold up his fingers and repeat back to her the steps of what would happen before walking in to preschool. Then as they walk to preschool they could verbally walk through the steps again if needed. The mother’s responsibility, then is to follow through with those steps exactly as planned. Any variation from it could upset the child or cause a meltdown (as it did in the original scenario).
Being proactive and implementing three simple things into our daily schedule I have found my son to be much more at ease in his environments. I feel that I have given him the gift of consistency and predictability, and in return I am given the gift of seeing my son in his true nature more often. My hope is that each of you receive that same gift as you implement routines, schedules, and transitions into your routine as well!
This post originally appeared on Not a Cookie-Cutter Mom. You can read more from Wendy there.
Some visual schedules to consider include the following affiliate links: