Explanations are the key to opening up countless doorways of success for your child:
Before you continue reading this article, take some time to reflect on the question that I am about to ask you. Give this question real consideration and challenge yourself to be honest and thoughtful. After all, there is never a right, or wrong answer, but there is always room for deeper introspection, growth and learning!
So, here is my playroom question of the day: How often do you stop and really explain things to your children on the Autism spectrum?
This question applies whether your child is fully verbal, speaking by using sounds, highly interactive, mostly exclusive, 2-years-old, or 20-years-old. Because, at the Autism Treatment Center of America, we believe that every single child understands what we are saying. We believe that they are absorbing the world around them and that they are always listening. Because of that we use the same level of sophistication when speaking to our children every single day.
Now, you may already believe that your child understands you, but many parents still give quick explanations, or no explanation at all, despite believing that their children are listening. In fact, it’s very common for families to realize the importance of explaining more during their Son-Rise Program® Intensive. This is a realization that lots of families walk away with! Families even experience their child to be calmer and more flexible both inside and outside of the playroom simply because they began explaining more to their children.
Here are a few scenarios, but certainly not limited to just these examples, where explanations have been so helpful for our children while in the playroom. I hope that you are inspired to think about areas in your own life where explanations could benefit your own child!
Explanations create a predictable environment for our children on the Autism spectrum:
When children arrive here on Monday morning for their Intensive Program, they are walking into a new place, with new people and often times a very new schedule. As a result, some children may cry when the first Child Facilitator enters the playroom. Some children may push us away, or hold on to their Mother, or Father’s hand. Some children may even seek distance by moving across the room. These children are trying, in the best way that they know how, to create some level of predictability and control for themselves. This is one reason why we provide our children with detailed explanations. Our goal is to always support and honor their need for predictability, and giving more explanations is a way to do that!
When our children first arrive on Monday morning to their Son-Rise house for the week, there are two types of explanations that we Child Facilitators could provide them with.
Which explanation do you believe would create the most security and predictability for you if you were in a new place for the first time?
Here’s one possible explanation: “Hi! My name is Brandi. I’m so happy that you are here! Your Mom and Dad will be back at 1:30 and you’re going to play with your new friends until then. We have everything that you need and I will always be here to help you.”
I introduced myself, I expressed my appreciation and I even let the child know what is happening. But, the above explanation doesn’t provide our children with an understanding of what’s actually going on. Which means that we haven’t created a predictable environment for our newest friend to settle into.
Here’s a second possible explanation: “I am so happy to finally meet you! My name is Brandi and I’ll be here in the playroom with you for the next 2 hours. I know that this is a new place, and that you may want to know what’s happening, so I will tell you everything that I know. First of all, I am here to help you with anything that you may need, so if you’re thirsty, we have water on the table, if you’re hungry, we have a snack up on the shelf, and if you need help with the bathroom, I can help with that too. We even have fun toys that I can bring down for you! I also have this schedule for you. It has all of your new friends' names written on it, and I’ll leave it here on the wall so that you always know what’s happening. On the schedule it even says that your Mom and Dad will be back in the playroom at 1:30 and again at 3:30. You’ll also spend every single evening with them, but for now they are in the room next to the kitchen with one of our amazing and fun teachers. They can’t wait to play with you again after lunch time!”
You can imagine that your child is more likely to experience a stronger sense of control when you paint such a clear picture for them. They now know what’s happening, they realize that Mom and Dad are actually coming back, they understand that everything that they need is in the playroom and they have a schedule to refer to as a reminder about their day. Lastly, and most importantly, they get to hear a new friend respecting them enough to really talk to them! That is definitely an added bonus!
Explanations help inspire children to use clearer forms of communication as opposed to crying, whining, or tantruming:
Many children learn from an early age that people move fast when they cry. They have gathered evidence that the world around them is responsive and actually provides what they want faster when they tantrum. Once again, no matter how old your child is, explain the benefits of using clearer forms of communication when interacting with the world around them.
Here is one possible explanation that you may want to give your own child if they have been crying, whining, or tantruming:
“It’s totally okay to cry, but many people in the world will be confused and not feel clear when you do. I want to help you get what you want from people and I have a few ways that will help you much more than crying will! You can take my hand and move me towards what you may be trying to get. You can make a sound, or you can use your words. You can even come and sit down with me if you just want a hug. I always want to help you and so do all of your friends.”
If you have been responding to your child’s crying, it’s totally okay! In fact, our staff here at the Autism Treatment Center of America have written many informative articles and blogs just about crying and whining. Check them out for even more helpful techniques for crying. But, there is no better time than right now to begin explaining more!
Here is a link to one of our blogs written by Raun K. Kaufman, and it’s all about crying and tantrums:
Explanations help our children with changes and transitions while in the playroom:
As some of you parents already know, many of our children with Autism have a challenge with allowing changes to their everyday routines. Maybe your child wants to wear the same green shirt every day, or carry the same toy helicopter around. Your child may only want to drink out of the same pink princess cup, or bring the same stuffed animal into the playroom every morning. The bottom line is that our children are creating predictable routines in order to feel more secure in a world that may feel out of control to them. Explaining what is happening, what will be happening, or what just happened is a great way to support your child’s need for predictability.
One of the changes that can sometimes be challenging for our children is transitions in and out of the playroom. Allowing a new person to walk through the playroom door can be a lot for some of our children to process. But, giving a detailed explanation before the transition actually happens, has helped so many of our children over the years!
Here is a possible explanation that you can give your child when a transition is about to happen:
“It is 1:55 right now, so in five minutes Susan will be coming into the playroom. That means that I will say goodbye so that she can hang out with you. But, we can choose to get excited about her walking through your playroom door! We can even greet her with an excited smile, or play some music for her when she comes in! Let’s begin our 5 minute countdown now so that you can feel ready when the door is about to open!”
Taking the time to explain when a transition is about to happen gives your child time to process that change and even a chance to welcome the change with open arms!
Explanations help children more calmly and easily accept limits and boundaries:
As you know, in The Son-Rise Program, one of our intentions is to give our children as much control as possible while in the playroom. We want to create a yes environment so that they can freely make choices that feel good to them. However, there are times when we Child Facilitators set certain boundaries in the playroom. We set boundaries around 3 different circumstances:
- To keep our children safe
- To keep our own bodies safe
- To take care of our property
For instance, we wouldn’t let a child sit on top of our playroom shelf because they may fall and hurt themselves. We would hold a therapy ball in front of our bodies if a child were trying to bite our arm. Or, we may put the books away for that session if a child continued to write in it, or kept ripping out the pages.
However, we wouldn’t set these boundaries without giving our children explanations. In fact, we’ve actually seen that our children are much more responsive and accepting of the boundary when we explain why it’s being set in the first place. Let’s take my example of a child ripping pages out of a book. Here is another possible explanation that you may give:
“I want to take care of our books so that you can continue reading them and so that you can keep enjoying the pictures. We also have other friends who may want to read them later too, so here is a piece of paper from our shelf that you can tare instead. I believe in you and I know that you are going to help me take care of our books, so go ahead and rip that white piece of paper up as much as you want too! I’ll give you as many as you need!”
We can all relate to wanting to know why people are asking certain things of us. The same is true for our children on the Autism spectrum. So, if you want to help your child write on paper instead of on the walls, explain why, and provide them with the alternative of paper. You may be surprised by how your explanation alone will help!
If your answer to my original question was, or upon further reflection is now, “No, I actually don’t explain a lot to my child,” then challenge yourself to do just that today! Take a breath, slow down and prioritize really talking because your child is listening and it will absolutely help!