Having a child on the autism spectrum means doing most things a bit differently. It can be difficult to know how to navigate around certain events, especially when they require so much planning to keep your child safe and happy, yet it’s imperative to be prepared in order to do just that.
When thinking about projects in and around your home--crafts, DIY fixer-upper jobs, or simply rearranging the rooms to make them more accommodating for your child—find the best ways to get your child involved, because big changes can lead to anxiety. Having a helping hand in these projects will allow your child to feel a measure of control and will likely make the transition easier.
Here are some of the best ways to get your child involved around the house while keeping them safe.
Big tasks--painting a room, or rearranging furniture--can lead to overwhelming changes for a child on the autism spectrum, so it might be best to start small. Create a space in your home that’s just for your child, full of soft textures, color, lights, and soothing music (if they enjoy music). You might put in a sensory table they can help with; with objects such as cotton balls, beads, rice, water, and anything else your child enjoys running her fingers through. The senses are very important to a child on the spectrum, but every child is different, so be sure to do some research on what she might enjoy and what to stay away from. And don’t forget to get their input! You can find out more about sensory play here.
Create safe zones
Many children who fall on the spectrum are at risk for wandering, so it’s imperative to make sure your home--and the surrounding area--is safe. If your home has stairs, for instance, the use of baby gates can be extremely helpful in keeping your child away from them. It’s also a good idea to make sure the appliances in your home are child-friendly--such as a stove with removable knobs--and install motion sensor alarms on the doors so you always know when someone comes in or goes out.
Keeping your child safe outdoors is a concern, as well. Having well-lighted steps is a good start, but you’ll also need to make sure your child can’t wander away. Keeping safe zones around your home is a great way to ensure your own peace of mind should she leave without you knowing, or if you want to give her a bit of freedom to play outside. A strong privacy fence is a great way to go, but there are many things to consider first, including pricing, size, material, and finding the right fencing company for your needs. Do some research on the different types available to you, and find some help with narrowing down your choices here.
A fun way to involve your child in these processes is to introduce her to the game “Red Light, Green Light”, in which you have him or her move around the areas while you coach them. When they get too close to the edge of your property--or to a door they need to stay away from--say, “Red light!” When they move away from it and into the safe zone, say, “Green light!” Keep it fun, but let them know those “red light” areas are to be avoided.
You can also allow your older child to be involved in choosing the fence; the design, color, and height are all things to be considered, so look online at different types and ask what their favorite is, and what they dislike. After it’s installed, consider working on a sign together to hang on that gate with your family’s name or address, or create a little garden in one corner of the yard that the two of you can work on throughout the year.
Play up your child’s strengths
Many children who fall on the autism spectrum enjoy sorting and organizing; others love working from a visual chart that tells them what comes next. Whatever individual strengths your child has, play them up when doing a household project so they can participate. If they enjoy sorting things, let them help you clean out the cabinets and give clear instructions on how to organize the contents (this is a great chore for the garage; if you have several loose nuts, bolts, and screws--and if your child is of the age where they can handle such items--give them empty baby food jars and have them sort each type into a different jar).
Remember that the goal is not to have your child do things the way you would do them, necessarily, but rather to give them the tools to work hard and see the positive results of that work. Try to stay patient and give them lots of support and positive feedback when they are successful. This will build their confidence and lead to more independence and future projects.