When your child has special needs, especially sensory processing issues, it can be difficult for them to go out in public. Trying to process the varying sensory inputs of new locations sometimes comes back as extreme behavioural issues. Over the years with our children we have needed to try different techniques to lessen the difficult behaviours, making getting out more manageable.
Help your loved one by letting them know what to expect. By taking time to prepare for an event your child knows what to expect and has time to practice suitable behaviour. Use calendars and visual schedules so your child can mentally prepare for what is coming up in their life. At our home we have a calendar that lists all activities for the family, and a few of the children study it multiple times per day. We then take "tomorrow's information" and record it on a whiteboard so it can be reviewed at dinner and then again a breakfast. Sometimes more reinforcement is required as transitions are still an issue so we use a hourly schedule with visuals.
For some activities more preparation is required, going to the dentist has been a big issue for a couple of our children. To make challenging outings more manageable we will read stories about the activity, make up our own social stories or watch videos about the intended activity. Do some role play or play a game that will help understand what the activity will be like and teach appropriate behavior that is expected. We also practice/discuss/role play what to do when feeling uncomfortable with the situation. If it's too loud, teach them to cover their ears or provide the child with earplugs or earmuffs. Too bright or busy, try sunglasses or a ball cap. If the situation is too stressful, maybe biting something appropriate (not their sister), chewing gum, a fidget activity or weighted item will help. Brainstorm what the trigger may be and what the child is feeling then look for simple solutions.
Look for the best time for participating in a chosen activity. When is the best time of day for the child? When is the most desirable time for the activity? Phone and ask when the quietest time is? Ask if they have any options for people with special needs? They may have preferred pricing for a support person, maybe a different place to line-up for someone who cannot wait. I always phone and explain my child's needs and see if they have options to help them. If your child fatigues easily bring a wheelchair, stroller or chair so you can provide needed breaks. When possible bring an extra support person. If you have multiple children and one that may not be able to fully participate this will make the day more enjoyable.
If your child gets bored easily give them a job or activity to do so they have something concrete to focus on. You could give them a map or list and have them responsible for a task. Give them a camera and make them the designated photographer for the activity. Sit with the child in the planning stages and brainstorm some things they would like to learn and have them find the answers at the activity. I always bring small snacks and water as this can be a distraction to extend the time spent at the chosen activity.
Try to keep the activity positive so you can build on it. If your child experiences short positive trips they will be more eager to try longer trips. If they have difficulty with activities practice that activity in small increments. We have gone to the grocery store to practice walking into the store and then built up to walking up and down the isles without grabbing things. If your child has trouble with an activity do many short trial runs practicing expected behaviour and by scheduling it as practice time you will have more patience to teach expected behaviour.
Also remember it is okay not to take your child places, if it is too much for your child and its something you want to attend find a babysitter. Leaving your child with a babysitter can be a nice break for both you and your child.
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