Taking your autistic child somewhere new can be a huge challenge. Children with autism appreciate sameness and routine so going someplace new is not only scary, but also traumatic to them. How can you ease your child into going to a new place? I have a few solutions to this issue that comes up often as your child with autism grows. Over time, autistic children do better with this but you will find those early years, your child with autism may have a hard time going to new places.
How to prepare your autistic child for a change in routine:
Early preparation is key in managing meltdowns your autistic child may have when going someplace new. First of all, start talking about going to the new place very early on. A short trip to a new dentist may need less preparation than a week-long vacation to Florida would. If your child with autism has speech delays and you are unsure if he can understand, use the PECs system (Picture Exchange Communication System) or pictures to show your child what to expect once you go.
For example, collect pictures about going to the dentist and post them on the calendar so your child knows when he is going to be there. Check out books on children going to the dentist to read to your child with autism. Ask the dentist as sometimes they have videos that children can watch so they are less nervous about procedures. Talk to your child with autism about what they can expect at the dentist’s office. Will there be a shot involved? Will he need to be still? Will he be leaned back in the dental hygiene chair? Think about all of these things and prepare your autistic child in advance. Anything that might be scary or upsetting needs to be talked about, step by step.
Will this new place be similar to somewhere else?:
If your autistic child has been to a dentist before but not to this dental office, make sure and tell your child what will be different. Is this dentist a woman like the last one? Is this one more crowded? Do they have different expectations? Will there be balloons and stickers? How are the dental chairs different?
Although you have talked about it before, remind the child on the way there:
When you are on the way to the new place, talk to the child and remind him of where you will be going and what will happen once you are there. I always use this time with my autistic child to discuss appropriate behavior for the place we are going. At the library, she is expected to use a lower voice and walk quietly. Going to a zoo, she is expected to walk with me holding my hand at all times.
Other expectations need to be noted:
Children with autism see so many doctors and specialists that they need to know what to expect at each appointment. I always discuss this over the phone so I can tell my child what to expect. Will there be undressing or putting on a hospital gown? My autistic daughter needs to be warned about this or will meltdown when it happens. Does she need to read an eye chart? She needs to know just what she is supposed to do with those letters or shapes on the chart. Will the doctor be touching her and where will he be touching her? This is especially important if someone needs to touch her head (measuring for head growth) for any reason.
Tell about what your autistic child will see there:
Don’t just tell about the details and leave out other fun things that are available to see and do. I tend to always schedule a fun activity after long specialist visits so my daughter can look forward to going. It also lends a certain amount of fun and excitement to seeing the doctor, even when an injection is needed. My autistic child may not remember doctor’s names but she does remember the huge fish tank lining the wall at her specialist’s office and the fun games at the dental office we frequent.
These tips should help ease your autistic child’s nervousness when confronted with going somewhere new that is out of his routine. What I always try to do is to make any new experience a positive one, in any way I possibly can. The one time a new experience is a negative one, you will have a hard time getting your autistic child to go back. The next time you go, there will be many meltdowns and it will be impossible to calm the child down. That first time doing a new experience or going to a new place with your child with autism is your one big chance to make a positive impression on your child.