How to Create a Predictable Environment So Your Child Can Thrive

“Your child or adult on the autism spectrum can often experience the world around them as unpredictable. When your child perceives their environment as unpredictable, it becomes difficult for them to engage with people and to flourish.

“How the world is can seem extremely out of control to your child. This is because a person on the spectrum has a considerable challenge socially connecting and relating to others. They cannot yet read and fully grasp important social cues as a neurotypical person might. Not understanding all the social behaviors and rules in place makes it difficult for your child to integrate into the social world, where they can learn and grow.

“Let’s take a look at how your child might perceive the world around them:
• “People’s attitudes are often inconsistent, unpredictable, and confusing. Why is my teacher in a great mood one day, and the next day, she seems annoyed?
• “Your child may have extra sensitivities in their body that is not within their control, and it can be challenging to communicate what is going on for them to the people in their lives.
• “Among many other things, your child cannot filter out distractions as we can. This makes their daily sensory experience very unpredictable. They can also experience much more pain and discomfort in their bodies than a neurotypical child.

“Imagine how it would feel if you had these challenges going on. Your environment would feel unsafe to you. Learning to navigate the world successfully would undoubtedly take significant energy and work.

“Your child’s overall experience might manifest in the following ways:
• “Overstimulation leads to behaviors of withdrawal, which may seem like resistance or even defiance. For example, your child stops responding to you when you attempt to help them or does the opposite of what you want them to do.
• “Challenges in learning. Learning becomes hard for your child because when they are overstimulated, they cannot focus and learn. When your child is overstimulated, they may dive more deeply into stimming behaviors to self-regulate.
• “Difficulty in trusting others. Your child may find it challenging to create bonds with people because they often experience what people say and do as incongruent.

“Here’s how you can create an environment that feels predictable and manageable for your child. An environment where they can relax more easily, making it more conducive to your child’s ability to learn and grow:

1. “Create predictability for your child:
– “Let your child know when things are about to happen ahead of time. For example, if you are going to leave the house for a therapy session later that day, try explaining what will happen several times throughout the morning and show your child the clock with the time you will be leaving.
– “Explain to your child why you want them to do what you want them to do (e.g., “let’s put our coat on now, so we can stay warm as we go outside”) instead of just putting their coat on for them, without any warning.
– “Follow through with what you say you are going to do. For instance, if you tell your child you will play with them when your spouse gets home, go ahead and play with them, so you are true to your word.

2. “Give your child as much control as possible. As long as it’s safe and reasonable to do so:
– “Let your child choose which vegetables they can have from the fridge for dinner.
– “Have your child decide on his clothes for the day.
– “Ask permission before you pick up your child or use one of their toys.
– “Listen and respond to your child’s ‘no’ – whether they are telling you ‘no’ or showing you ‘no.’

3. “Embody an Attitude of Acceptance
– “Prioritizing this one essential attitudinal approach with your child, especially when your child does behaviors you do not understand, is a powerful way to connect with your child each day. For example, trust that your child is doing their best to take care of themselves when they are stimming. See if you can embrace this behavior, even when it might look unique or unexpected, or you are out in public with your child.

“These are the ‘benefits’ to your child on the autism spectrum when you cater to their desire for predictability and give them control:

• “Learning is more accessible because focusing is easier. In an environment that is not going against your child, your child will feel more in control and be able to lower their stress levels. We can all take in and learn more when we are not highly stressed.
• “A consistent sense of control and predictability with people promotes an increased interest and motivation to connect with others. When your child trusts people (because people are more predictable), they can inadvertently learn more social skills.
• “Your child’s nervous system will stay calm more often, promoting better physical and brain health.

“At the Autism Treatment Center of America®, we encourage you to see where you can add one of these proven Son-Rise Program principles to your life with your child. Use them in your child’s environment daily, and let yourself see how your child responds. You may be delighted!!!”

Suzanne Pruss, Son-Rise Program Teacher

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