Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Get Rid of Transition Meltdowns Forever

Asperger's children are particularly susceptible to meltdowns when faced with the unexpected. Unfortunately, what is unexpected to them can be perfectly obvious to their parents making it difficult for their parents to anticipate and avoid a scene. It becomes incumbent on the parent to clearly signal an approaching transition in order to set their Asperger's child up for a smooth and successful transition.

A case in point is leaving a playdate. The parents have an internal clock that chimes in when it is socially appropriate to leave. Perhaps it's drawing close to a natural separation time like lunch, or dinner, or nap time, when socially attuned people start picking up on the cues that the host is ready to move on to another activity.

The Asperger's child is not attuned to these social cues and may not be attuned to any external factors. Asperger's children may stay at the neighbor's house long past dark, may continue on video games well past bedtime, and will not want to leave the pool when it closes. There is an intensity of focus in many children with Asperger's Syndrome that makes everything else pale in comparison to the fun at hand. They are oblivious to the external and have no sense of time passed, even more so than neurotypical children.

What makes Asperger's children very comfortable is routine and met expectations. If parents can establish a departure routine, and stick to it, their Asperger's child will have an easier time transitioning from one activity to another.

AIRPLANE BOARDING TECHNIQUE: When an airplane is preparing for departure, gate attendants don't pick up the microphone at the last minute and announce that the plane will be leaving immediately and everyone needs to get on board immediately. That would result in total chaos! No, they announce that the plane is getting prepared for boarding, then they bring on the first class and pre-boarding passengers, and finally they announce boarding by seats. Passengers know what to expect and behave accordingly.

Parents who are able to consistently apply the airplane boarding technique to their Asperger's children's lives find transitions to be much smoother. The steps could be:

1. Fifteen minute warning: Announce to the child that the departure time will be in fifteen minutes and suggest that the game needs to wrap up in the next five minutes.

2. Ten minute warning: Announce that games should be over now, and that the child should help put toys and games away and clean up.

3. Five minute warning: The parent might need to physically assist the child in separating from the play at hand. Keeping a positive conversation, the parent may need to direct the child in putting toys and games away. If the game was not at a natural stopping point, the parents might need to intervene and teach the children how to come to a cooperative close. This is a great time to model closing statements like "we really had fun coming over today" or "thank you so much for sharing your toys" or "next time maybe you can come to our house to play".

4. Departure: Then it is time to gracefully leave.

The two most critical parts of successfully deploying the Airplane boarding technique for activity transitions are that it be used consistently, with consistent words, so that the child gets used to the pattern of the routine and also that the parent get physically involved with the departure routine in the beginning when the pattern is being established. This is especially true for children who become so focused that they are unable to respond to verbal directions and require physical distraction to break them out of their zone.

Parenting Aspergers Children offers parents support as they progress through the steps of identifying, diagnosing, and treating Aspergers Syndrome in their children.

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