A Mind of My Own
Posted by Gail | Filed under Autism
Chapter 4: A Matter of Routine (Part 4)
If you leave an Asperger’s child to deal with things himself, the world won’t come to an end. Well, your world won’t. But his will, dozens of times, in a million different ways. His stress levels will rise. His stims (self-stimulation – the things he does to cope with stress like rocking or chewing) will be more pronounced. And, ultimately, his behaviour will deteriorate.
That’s not to say you’ll be able to think of everything. No one could. But whatever you can prepare an Asperger’s child for will help to alleviate that sense of not knowing what going on.
One of the best ways of prepping an Asperger’s child, particularly when they are younger, is by using social stories. I’ve found a lot of people know what they are, but very few people know how to write them or use them effectively. A social story is a roadmap that explains something. Here’s an example of a part of a social story for the first day of school.
Malcolm is going to school on Monday, September 7. It is his first day of school. Mommy and Malcolm will get up earlier. They will get up at 7:00 a.m. Mommy will make Malcolm’s favourite breakfast. Then Malcolm will put on his black pants, his red shirt, and his black socks. Malcolm will brush his teeth and Mommy will brush Malcolm’s hair. Malcolm and Mommy will leave the house at 8:30 to walk to school. School starts at 9:00. Malcolm will meet his new teacher, Mrs. Robins, and all the children in his class. He’ll have some fun and he’ll be very tired when he comes home.
In my experience, good social stories have seven basic characteristics:
- They are complete. They have lots of detail, and don’t assume the child will fill in the blanks. They are positive, creating the mindset you want the child to carry through the event. Most importantly, they tell the truth. If there are things that will be negative, you tell the truth so the child is prepared.
When we get to the dentist’s office, it is going to smell strange. There are also some strange sounds and if Malcolm asks Mommy what they are, Mommy will show him.
- They speak in the child’s language. The words are simple and easy to understand. Since Malcolm didn’t understand pronouns, I minimized their use in our early social stories.
- They set expectations. If Malcolm knows he is expected to wear his black pants and red shirt, he’ll be much more likely to comply, eliminating a potential area of conflict when we come to the actual morning and its inherent stress.
- They are in order. If you mix up the order on the morning of the first day of school, you have effectively negated the social story and you will be sorry!
- They are repeated. Review a social story with your child several times before the day of the event to familiarize your child with what will happen. The more often you read the social story, the more real you make the events, the less stress later on.
- They are of a reasonable length. I’d never do a story more than a couple of paragraphs long at once. If you have to break events into two or three stories, so be it. Too much at once will be overwhelming. Perhaps, if the event is big enough (flying to another city to go to a family party, for example) you would write four or five stories and after the child becomes familiar with each of them you could combine them into a single story.
- They are cooperative. You might have to do the first two or three for your child while he watches, but eventually you should be writing them together so your child is involved and learns the process. Always thrusting a story at a kid is a sure way to turn him off. Getting him involved by using icons, pet phrases, or by having him write some of the words involves him in the process in a way that makes the story belong to him.
You don’t have to write a social story for everything you do. Sometimes a list will suffice. So, for a day of shopping, you might write:
Have breakfast at 8:30
Dress, brush teeth at 9:00
In the car at 9: 10
To the supermarket – complete shopping list
Stop for lunch at McBunnies at 12:00
To the post office to mail the letters
To the dry cleaners to pick up the clean clothes
Home – about 3:30
While I tried my best to have Malcolm prepared so that his stress levels wouldn’t go way up, I also liked to mix things up from time to time so that started to get used to the unpredictability of life. Whenever he seemingly in a groove and feeling happy, I’d try a change in the plan with a prior warning:
“Malcolm, I’m a little ahead of schedule today. How about if we go to the post office before lunch, then we’ll have one less thing to do after? Would that be okay?”
If he said yes, we were off to the races. If he said he wanted to go for lunch first, we stuck to the plan. He eventually got used to me mixing things up a bit and learned to give. And then there was the day that the caca hit the fan and the plan went out the window. “Sorry, sweetie,” I said. “Things have gotten all mixed up, but if you cope with this and are a good boy, I’ll let you have an extra 20 minutes on the computer when we get home.” He coped. He got his 20 minutes and we both learned that flexibility comes with a price that it is sometimes worth paying. Now, if we are heading out for a day of shopping, which Malcolm absolutely abhors, I offer him 5 minutes of extra computer time for every half-hour we’re out. He keeps count of the time he’s earning and is reasonably patient. I don’t have a kid constantly whining, “When are we going home?” A win all around.