So I bet several of you thought this might be about Hank Williams Jr.‘s song Family Tradition. It’s not but feel free to listen real quick before you continue to read. Great song if you have an old soul music liking like me.
The need for structure in the daily regimen of a child with Autism is extremely high. Having structure builds on the child’s strengths which are the desire for routine,
predictability, organization, comfort with repetitive tasks, and their need to finish things. I have learned that children with Autism require as much routine and structure as possible and even more than what you or I might thrive to have.
I am a huge believer in family traditions through the holidays too. This time can be very stressful for families with children with Autism because it can be tricky when dealing with change in their weekly routines. As I said above, having structure builds on the child’s strengths but having holiday traditions is very important to me too. So how do you do both? There are countless articles you can google about why holiday traditions are important for children with Autism but let me share a little technique Cody’s Grandmother did. We will refer to her as “Ganny”. Cameron calls her this and can’t wait to know what Cody will call her one day. (smile)
Easter has always held a special place in my heart because one tradition our boys have always had is decorating eggs with their Ganny. I can remember a lot of Easter’s over the years where Ganny painted eggs with Cameron and now Cody.
Last week, during Cody’s normal time he would spend at Ganny’s, she built this “change” (aka Easter egg decorating) into his already familiar schedule when she watches him in the afternoons. So see, if this was Cameron my NT (neurotypical) you could have surprised him anytime and he would be on board and ready for the change. For Cody if you build changes into their your existing family plans the transition is easier and more successful. This is how we build on family traditions that we can carry out every year and begin to count on those events as safe and fun.
I know this sounds confusing but basically children with Autism might not understand or like surprises or new things at first and you might end of with resentment or a meltdown if you do not build the “change” into something they are familiar with. The mysterious part of it all though is Cody can be very adaptable and others times you can see him get stressed and scared in new environments. I can pull up to a store front, baseball field, park or restaurant and Cody is fine but I can pull up to a school or walk through an aquarium and the fear comes across him. I have always believed in exposing him to new things but I am also smart about doing it mixed with some familiarity.
So back to decorating Easter eggs….When Ganny would decorate with Cameron (my NT), the biggest challenge for her is to make sure Cameron had patience. He could not wait until the color had time to set on the eggs and he would get in such a hurry because of excitement and joy while decorating! For Cody, you get the same joyous feeling but it’s a different experience all together. Let me share what this experience looks like through photos Ganny and Papa captured. Children with autism may see things different and to watch their brave spirits it is so intriguing to see how they think and view the world different than us.
So you can see by the photos, how successful Ganny and Papa were with Cody’s FIRST Egg decorating! In my experience with Cody, one of the best ways to avoid a meltdown or panic attack over change is to warn him as much as possible about the upcoming event perhaps visit a place early so he becomes familiar with it. The more you communicate with them about the upcoming changes, the better he will handle it even when he is still non-verbal, he understands! If discussed enough, the new event becomes part of the schedule they count on.
What family traditions do you have?