For many young people with autism starting a new activity or going somewhere new can be really challenging. For some difficulties with doing this can lead to a life that consists of only home and school with little in the middle.
Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for younger children who are often exhausted after the pressures of the school day and need the downtime that home provides. Older children often get to the point where they would like to take part in other activities but become overwhelmingly anxious about doing so.
This post aims to give a step by step approach to thinking about and introducing a new activity.
Think carefully about the activity choice
Choosing an activity your child is likely to get intrinsic enjoyment from, and if possible one that is related to their special interest is most likely to achieve a favourable outcome. Talk to them about the kind of activities they might like to try out, and let them know that it’s ok to try a few before finding one that’s the right fit for them.
Consider the environment
Taking a look at the alternative venues that the activity is held in and their suitability for your child is key. Do they prefer to be indoors or outdoors? Do they cope better in a large room with plenty of space or in a smaller venue that’s more contained? If they like you to be around is there somewhere you will be able to sit nearby?
Talk to the teacher/ instructor/ group leader
Getting a feel for the person in charge of the activity will help you to gauge how well they will relate to your child, and how well your child will relate to them. Don’t be afraid to ask if they have autism experience and whether they would be happy to listen to the strategies you give them. Activities can be a great way of building self esteem, but sadly feeling as though they have failed at them can act in reverse. Getting the right group leader can make a huge difference to the potential for success.
Go For A Pre-Visit
Visiting the building, watching the activity for a short time or meeting the teacher prior to attending the group/ activity for the first time can all make a big difference, Knowing that you will be with them for the whole time, that they will only be staying for a very limited time and that they can leave at any point that they need can all be key to ensuring that those who find new things difficult feel confident to step through the door.
Arrange A Taster Session
I have lost count of the number of activities that we have been to over the years only to never return again. Activities that all too often we have signed up for and paid for a term in advance. Most groups though, if you ask will offer a taste session prior to asking you to sign up. This session will give both you and your child chance to assess whether this activity is the right one for them, rather than having the pressure of feeling like you have to make it work.
Find A Friend
If a friend – or at least a familiar face – happens to be in the room new activities tend to be easier. It can be hard walking into a sea of unfamiliar faces. So doing your research in advance and trying to find within the group your child will recognise can be really helpful. If you know their parents, arranging for them to meet you outside so that your children can walk through the door together can make a huge difference.
Negotiate The Terms
Talk to your child in advance about what would make the activity easier for them. Do they want they stay with them? Do they need a calm day before or a list of exactly what will be happening during the session? This post about things you can do when anxiety threatens to stop your child doing something that they would enjoy has lots of helpfulness tips about small things you can suggest to see if they would help.
Keep It Pressure Free
It is really important especially in the early days of a new activity to take as much pressure of both you and your child’s shoulders as possible. For some children and young people this may involve building the time spent at the activity up gradually week by week, for others it may involve a code word or time out card which lets people know that they need to leave.
The key is to remember that this is just one activity. One size doesn’t fit all. If it doesn’t work, there will be other opportunities and other activities which may be a better fit.
Use Praise And Reinforcement…. Thoughtfully
Those of you who are regular readers will know that I am a big fan of praise and reinforcement. Even as adults we like to be told that we are doing a good job and our children are more different.
The key here should be that the praise and reward is for trying rather than succceeding. It should be given even if your child had only managed to step through the door. Ensure they know you understand what a big step that is and how proud you are of them just for trying.
If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
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