What are Strategies?
We all use strategies in our day-to-day life to cope and avoid feeling overwhelmed, some examples of these are: having enough sleep, looking after our health, organising tasks, talking to others, reducing some pressures and taking time to relax.
Similarly, children and young people need strategies, including those with additional support needs or an Autistic Spectrum Diagnosis. There is a vast range of strategies available that support them to process and understand information, cope with sensory processing, support to understand and regulate their emotions and build relationships.
Every autistic person is unique and individual and what works for them should be person centred to their own stage of development, understanding, communication needs and sensory profile. Therefore it is important to understand the child or young person and look at strategies that may meet their Autistic profile.
Also remember that there are many factors to consider that may contribute to whether the child or young person is able to use the strategies that have been identified. Often it may seem they are unable to use known strategies to regulate themselves resulting in meltdowns, shouting/ swearing, injuring themselves or others, running away, shutting down or withdrawing to name a few.
Here are some suggestions to explain why the demand may outweigh their skill at that point:
• No Mental Energy • Burnout • Sensory overload • Dysregulated • Anxiety
• Emotionally overwhelmed • Task is difficult due to learning style • Lack of clear instructions
• Difficulty with transitions • Physical discomfort that’s hard to identify or express
• Difficulty focusing • Difficulty initiating
• Having fluctuating capacity dismissed as lack of effort (bad attitude)
• Negative experiences with school, teachers and learning
• Perfectionism • Stress • Trauma • Other unmet needs
Use the buttons on the right to open sections with the relevant information about Strategies and the services that can support you and the young person you care for.
Strategies pop-ups :
You can download these Autism and Strategies pages as a PDF by clicking the image above
Praise and Reward
Giving the child or young person praise can positively reinforce what they are doing well and encourage this behavior.
Often children or young people who believe they are bad or have a negative view of themselves can feel uncomfortable when you tell them they are good. There are several ways to praise more successfully:
- Keep it brief & be specific. Say it with a smile or affirming touch so the child feels the praise, then move on quickly so it isn’t too much.
- Praise effort not achievement. Remember children often can’t do, rather than won’t do, so we need to acknowledge that the task was, “a big ask. I’m proud of you for trying it. We’ll just keep practicing.”
- Some children need lots of playful pizzazz in order to feel praise. For them doing a victory dance or chanting, “We are great” loud and soft, fast and slow, while holding hands can work.
Using rewards and motivators can help to encourage a particular behaviour. Even if the behaviour or task is very short, if it is followed by lots of praise and a reward, the person can learn that the behaviour is socially acceptable.
Using a visual tool that can measure the child or young person’s efforts for example Jar of cotton balls or Star Chart can often be a useful tool to help them see the progress towards their reward:
- Start with something simple that is achievable.
- Be clear, if the reward is not achieved move on to the positive of trying again next time.
- Rewards do not need to cost money. An hour’s free time to play on favourite computer game, crafts or outdoor activity without interruption is often enough of an incentive.
- Ensure you involve your child in the process and let them add the stickers/colour in the stars.
While there are many plusses to reward-based teaching, there can be downsides. Children can quickly become accustomed to receiving a prize for a job well done, and some autistic children can find it particularly difficult to separate the task from the prize.
When a child is accustomed to working for a reward, it can be very difficult to “fade” the reward and expect the behavior to continue. Some autistic children like consistency, and when they’ve received the same prize for the same behavior over a period of time, it can be very upsetting to have that prize taken away. A child who spends the day waiting to win his toy may behave appropriately, but find it very difficult to focus on lessons or conversations because they are so concerned with winning his prize at the end of the day, it also means that there is a risk that they begin to be motivated by the reward rather than by any genuine desire to change their behaviour.
The Childhood Collective has written an article about 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Using Rewards to Improve Your Child’s Challenging Behavior
Person Centred Approach
A model of person centred planning aims to:
- Put children and young people at the centre of planning and decisions that affect them
- Bring people together – both to celebrate successes, and also to address difficulties with honesty and care
- Help children and young people learn how to express their views, how to choose and how to listen
- Show children and young people that they are listened to, respected, and valued and cared for – that they belong
- Help adults get to know the children and young people they work with, and give insight into the impact they are having on children and young people
- Make plans that build towards meaningful outcomes for children and young people and their families
Methods and tools available to do this at home and in an education, environment are:
Preparing for Change
Often when introducing something new, whether this is a place, or an experience, children and young people can feel anxious and worried about the change to their typical routine. By planning for the change or new place, for example going on holiday or a change to a routine, you will help the young person to feel less worried and more prepared.
Use communication methods that are appropriate to the child or young person’s level of understanding such as timetable, or photos or videos of what their new environment may look like. Weekly or daily planners and countdown charts can often be helpful.
Another strategy to prepare for a change is using a social story. Further information and guidance for Social Stories can be found on the Social Stories pop-up on this page.
However here are some examples of preparing to go to the Airport: To help prepare for going on a flight Glasgow Airport and Edinburgh Airport have prepared guides for people who have additional support needs to clearly explain what will happen at the airport.
Understanding a child or young person’s sensory profile will help to identify strategies, aids, equipment that will support them at home and at school.
Here are some suggestions, however it is important to seek advice from professionals such as Speech and Language therapist or Occupational Therapist for further information and support.
- Chewies / chewlery
- Coloured overlays for paperwork / schoolwork
- Designated quiet areas / safe space
- Fidget items
- Heavy work activities
- Noise cancelling headphones
- Sensory Compression bed sheet
- Tactile objects with different textures
- Tinted glasses
- Weighted blanket
- Wobble Seat
Diversified is a great online shop run by a local neurodivergent teen, with a good range of inexpensive sensory toys.
Falkirk council have created a Guide “Making sense of sensory behaviour” which provides detailed information and support to understand sensory behaviours.
Social Stories were developed by Carol Gray in 1991
A Social Story:
- Is a short story that describes a situation in terms of relevant social cues and common responses.
- Provides accurate and specific information regarding what is occurring in a social situation and why.
- Is person and situation specific.
- Is thought to increase social skills and improve behaviour in different situations.
When are Social Stories Useful
- If a child’s response indicates he/she is misreading a situation.
- To describe a situation when a child is doing well.
- To make a written record of achievement.
Gray suggests Social Stories can ‘inform, reassure, instruct, console, support, praise and rectify certain social situations for children with ASD.’
A Social Story for the Rest of Us – Author Carol Gray describes good practice for professionals, in the form of a social story. (You can access the PDF in the link at the foot of the page)
For the last three decades, parents and professionals have learned to write Social Stories to accurately share information, teach, and praise children, adolescents, and adults with autism.
In A Social Story for the Rest of Us, Carol merges her expertise and experience as an autism consultant as she describes with disarming honesty what “the rest of us” need to know to work effectively on behalf of those in our care.
Strategies in School
- Brain Break
- Classroom adaptions – wobble seat / Den area
- Emotional Regulation – Zones of regulation / Emotion Works
- Enhanced transitions
- Five-point scale
- Heavy work
- Movement Breaks
- Soft start / Soft finish (when starting and finishing school – or stopping for breaks or lunch)
- Mini transitions – between class changes/ activities by using visual timers / countdown / reminders / daily timetable
- One page profile
- Play therapy
- Pupil passport
- Safe space – Den / quiet space
- Small group working / nurture groups
- Trusted person
- Visuals – now and next / timetables
Strategies to Support Verbal Communication
What to do:
- Use your child’s name so they know you’re speaking to them
- Keep language simple and clear
- Speak slowly and clearly
- Give clear instructions with limited steps
- Give limited choices
- Use simple gestures, eye contact and pictures or symbols to support what you’re saying
- Allow extra time for your child to understand what you have said
- Think about your tone of voice when communicating
- Use different methods or ways of explaining things e.g. video or audio.
- Give them limited choices
- Tell them what they need to do, not what they shouldn’t be doing e.g. say “walk safely” rather than “don’t run”.
- Give praise by telling them they have done well and what they have done well
- be patient with them and give time to answer questions.
- ask your autism assessment team if you can get help from a speech and language therapist (SLT)
- try ways to help them communicate, such as Signalong, Makaton or PECS
- read tips from the National Autistic Society on communicating with your child
West Lothian therapists encourage the use of Signalong signs alongside speech when you are helping children to communicate. There are very helpful sets of videos on YoutTube here and here and another page of resources here.
There is also a monthly Signalong group on Friday mornings at the Child Development Centre in Beatlie Campus – call 01506 777598 for details.
What not to do:
- try not to ask your child lots of questions
- try not to have a conversation in a noisy or crowded place
- try not to say things that could have more than 1 meaning, such as “pull your socks up” or “break a leg”.
Structure and Routine
Having structure helps to make the environment more predictable and safer, it can also support the young person to become more independent as they learn the routines within the environment as they become more understanding of what is expected of them.
Developing a routine and a consistent way of doing things is really helpful and can reduce the impact of over-reacting. Organisation can give the young person a sense of control over how they plan their day.
Many Autistic people are thought to be visual learners, so presenting information in a visual way can help to encourage and support people’s communication, language development and ability to process information. It can also promote independence, build confidence and raise self-esteem.
All Autistic people can potentially benefit from using visual support, regardless of their age or ability. It’s an opportunity to communicate without complications.
We all use visuals every day without thinking. E.g., Road signs, diary and shopping lists.
Visuals can reduce stress as child has more understanding of what is expected of them, support to make choices and support to prepare for change.
- Objects of Reference
- Now and next boards
- Visual timetables (daily or weekly)
- Symbols for songs
- Communication diaries: Nursery – home / school – home
- Count down charts
- Reward charts
- Social Stories
Putting Yourself in Their Shoes
Imagine you have an important appointment that you have to be on time for. On the way, you get lost.
How do you feel?
Panicky, anxious, and you do not know where you are.
What do you do?
You would probably look for road signs or use your SatNav. Once you find something you recognise and know where you are going, you calm back down. You are now relaxed as you feel back in control.
The lost anxiousness and panic you felt is exactly how your child feels when they are having a meltdown. So as you can imagine, giving your child a visual has the same calming effect as they now feel grounded and know what to do, without the distration of speech which they cannot understand due to their anxious state.
NAIT – National Autism Implementation Team
The Visual Support Project is a collaboration between health and education partners which provides a consistent whole school inclusive visual supports resource, they have produced downloadable ‘How To’ guides for schools and parents which you can find here.
Here is a guide specifically advising on using home visual supports for all stages.
Autism Toolbox has a range of visual tools including as mentioned above that you can print off or download.
Other Communication Resources
Communication friendly environments have created a vast range of visuals to support children and young people. Below are just a few of the visual tools that are available:
Managing Emotions toolkit (You can access the PDF in the link at the foot of the page)
Social stories carolgraysocialstories.com
Social Story Advice sheet (NHS Lothian Speech and LanguageTtherapy services) (You can access the PDF in the link at the foot of the page)
- Social Story example (You can access the PDF in the link at the foot of the page)
- Visual Routine (You can access the PDF in the link at the foot of the page)
- Visual timetable (You can access the PDF in the link at the foot of the page)
- Zones of Regulation (You can access the PDF in the link at the foot of the page)
Worry Yummys and Worry Eaters are soft toys which help children to cope with their worries by ‘feeding ‘ them to the toy, which has a soft mouth into which drawings or notes can be put describing the worry. Parents can then remove the note when the child is asleep – the worry has magically been ‘eaten’ or you can simply tell the child that the worry eater will look after the worry so they don’t have to have it in their own head. Best age group around 4-8, depending on level of understanding. Miniature versions for attaching to school bags are also available.