Preparing your child with autism for World Autism Awareness Day and other events!

In conjunction with World Autism Awareness Day on the 2nd of April, we will be hosting an event at UCSI University’s North Wing. This is going to be an exciting event, where there will be a special ‘Paint For Autism’ project, a presentation by Dr. Nan Huai from our parent company (Wisconsin Early Autism Project), information booths, fun activities for the kids as well as special performances.

Now, for most of us, events like these are fun and enjoyable, and we look forward to attending them. Whether it’s a family reunion during the festive season, a birthday party, or a school concert, events are a part of life. However, for a child with autism, it can be a rather painful experience and this may in turn affect the family’s ability to enjoy an event as well.

If you think about it, there are several factors why big events like these can be stressful for a child with autism. Firstly, it is held at a location that the child is unfamiliar with or may have never even seen before. Next, there is going to be a crowd and various sounds and noises that may cause distress to the child. Let’s not forget the fact that the child is unaware of the flow of events, and is simply brought along from one place to another. Thereafter, being put in a situation that is already causing distress, they are expected to perform challenging tasks like greeting a stranger or interacting with other children they have never met before. These are just some of the challenges they may face.

So, we decided to come up with some simple strategies to help you help your child.

  1. Communicate
  • No one likes to feel like they are dragged around without being told what is happening. Hence, it is crucial that a child with autism is informed when something is about to happen, and spare no details. Here at EAP Malaysia, we like to use Social Stories to prepare our children for a situation or an event.
  • A social story essentially depicts the event or situation that is about to happen. It contains a script and supplementary pictures to effectively communicate to the child, as most children on the spectrum are visual learners. Social stories are usually individualised to the child, and written according to the child’s literacy and skill sets. 
  • More details on how to write a social story can be found here.
  • We've prepared a social story you can use for your child with autism for World Autism Awareness Day! You can download it HERE and print it out!
  1. Give predictability
  • No one likes to think they’re going somewhere they like, only to find out plans have changed at the very last minute.
  • As you communicate to your child, it is also important to let him/her know when the event will be happening. You could put the event on a calendar and count down the days to the event. Hopefully when the day of the event comes, the child has already been prepared for it.
  • At the event itself, it would be good to let the child know about the flow of the day. You could tell your child about some of the activities he/she will be participating in, perhaps even writing it down so that the child can refer to it, and cross off each activity as you go along. If your child understands the concept of time, you could let them know what time you will be leaving the event, or set a timer for each activity so that the child is aware of how long more they are required to participate.
  • We've come up with a visual schedule you can use for the day. Do take note that this visual schedule is flexible, depending on individual families as well as the needs of your child. You can download it HERE.
  1. Set expectations
  • No one likes to be doing something, only to find out they did it wrongly or failed to meet expectations. 
  • Children on the spectrum are usually unaware of the unspoken rules and behaviours that we would expect at an event. They may often engage in behaviours that are socially inappropriate, even more so if they are in a stressful situation. Hence, it is important that certain rules and expectations are established prior to the event. For some of these expectations, they might need to be practiced beforehand in a safe environment, for example, wishing the birthday boy/girl “Happy Birthday” while at a birthday party. 
  • Some basic rules and expectations can include: staying with family, listen to mom/dad, talking nicely and nice hands. They key is to set your child up to be successful. There may be many rules and expectations you want your child to adhere to, but do think about the priorities specific to the situation, and set expectations according to what you think your child can achieve.
  • We've also prepared a rule card for you to use! Download it HERE!
  1. Affirm
  • Everyone likes to be assured and praised for something they have done well. Likewise, if a child is rewarded for a particular behaviour they have demonstrated, they are more likely to demonstrate that good behaviour again in the future. Let your child know when they are coping well with the event; praise him/her for talking nicely instead of shouting or crying. If your child coped well at the event and participated to his/her best ability, reward the child with something they like after the event (e.g. ice cream, trip to the toy store).
  • Just because a family is affected by autism does not mean they can no longer attend events or go on trips. Attending an event together as a family is one of the most fulfilling experiences, and here at EAP Malaysia, we want to journey with you to help your family live a fulfilling life as well.

We hope that this article and the free resources provided will help you. We can't wait to see you on the 2nd of April!