Your child is NOT broken. And that means your child can learn and grow. It likely doesn't look the same as a typically developing kid but it's still possible. Supporting your child in learning new skills, special needs or not takes real focus and purpose. Intention is everything, and it matters here too. While details might differ from person to person, family to family there are some standard questions to consider when you make a decision to help your kid learn a new skill. This happened to us just recently.
As COVID started hitting, and we were all spending more time shut up in the house, one of the hardest things for me was knowing how much time my son was starting to spend on his tablet. Despite my best efforts, it just seemed like a constant uphill battle.
No matter how hard I worked, and I worked very hard, he seemed to spend more and more time on his device. Even though I had worksheets and tried to engage with the teachers and tried to find resources online and all of the things, my son's needs required that even when he was working, I would still need to be helping him work. Which made me working almost an impossibility. So slowly because I needed to work, he spent more time alone on his device.
I knew I needed to put together a schedule for him that would get him through a day where he could do things completely by himself. One where he wasn't on his tablet watching YouTube for seven hours. Figuring out how to do that though seemed to take me forever.
I thought about it and thought about it and thought about it.
And just like everybody else, I procrastinated.
One of the terrible things about procrastination is that it usually happens when you're not 100% sure of what it is that you need to do. When you don’t know how to do something. It's how that stops you. Even though I know this, sometimes the how still stops me. And I had no idea how to put this schedule together for my son.
A huge part of what was blocking me was I didn't know how to get him to understand that it was not okay to spend all day watching YouTube videos. And I felt like it was really important he understood that before I put together this schedule for him and just completely upturned the routine of his day. I mean, if you have a child with autism, you know what I'm saying. Your child gets used to something, they have a routine, they have a schedule, they have patterns, and they follow it. They follow them almost effortlessly. This is what had happened to my son. While he had a little bit of time engaging with his teachers remotely, and while we were working and trying to figure things out, a great deal of his time was just left on his own.
And he's a 13-year-old boy. So he had been watching YouTube and now it's become part of his routine.
This is what he does.
I first wanted to shift the expectation of his day before I could just start telling him to get off of his tablet. But I couldn't figure out how to do that. Figuring it out is the process I want to share.
When you want to purposely put something new into place for your child there are a few things you really need to consider. How do they best learn, what do they "get"? What do they struggle with, what makes things more difficult for them? And what is the real goal, the real outcome you are looking for? Hint - that goal should have a reason in it.
Consider what your child is GOOD at. What do they just "get"? How do they best understand, learn, make progress? Jack is best with images and very direct words. He is good with one-to-one understandings and practical themes. He responds well to social stories and schedules/routines work for him. He likes them so that was one less hurdle on this project. :)
Since Jack enjoys social stories I knew that would likely be part of it. But I couldn't figure out what to say, and how to say it.
Keep in mind the things your child is weak in. Avoid the things and techniques that are hard for them to understand, conceptualize, or are triggering. It doesn't help me to use a bunch of words with my son when he struggles with verbal direction. For him keeping it simple is the best way to help him when I have to talk. If, then statements. Using chronology or equals. Equals is an important word in our house. Jack has a connection to that work that allows us to use it in lots of really interesting ways. It's the closest we have been able to get to at having him understand why?
Know what your actual outcome is. This might sound completely obvious...it isn't. On one hand, you could say that my goal was to keep Jack off his tablet so much during the day. But actually, my real objective when I took the time to consider it was to help him learn how to have healthy habits so that as an adult he would have a fulfilling and satisfying life. Way different goal. And that second, real goal has the added benefit of being the why I needed to actually do what needed to get done. Without a reason making a change, no matter how helpful, is almost impossible to do. You need a really important why. Knowing that this skill was going to ultimately help in him knowing how to keep himself fulfilled and increase his quality of life into adulthood was REALLY motivating for me.
So I had sketched out what I thought was going to be the best way for my son to understand what was happening and why it was important. It still took several months for me to get this together but the key to this is to remember two things: Yes you can do it, whatever it is. The job is not bigger than you. And two you don't know until you do. Just like your child isn't broken - you can do this. Typical for me I realized I was stuck analyzing the "best" way to do this and decided to stop thinking and just execute. I went back to my three items to consider and thought of a book series my son already likes and responds to, the Berenstain Bear books. One of the Berenstain bear books, if you're not familiar with them, is called the Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food.
I woke up one morning and thought, of course, I can just take that book and edit it so I'm telling the lesson that I need Jack to learn about his time on the tablet.
That's exactly what I did.
I wrote a story called Jack and Too Much Tablet. I put almost the whole book into this little social story for him. I used Google Slides and pictures of him on his tablet, and then pictures of him doing a whole bunch of other things. It’s always important trying to find as many visuals as I could to let him know that if you spend all day on your tablet, you actually get sad and angry and you feel sick. It's not healthy.
After I put the book together we read it and he thought it was hilarious. He loved that he had his own little Berenstain bear book about himself and too much tablet. And that gave me what I needed to feel like I could put a schedule together for him for his days off. Which is what we called it, the day off schedule. A way for him to know that this is what you do with your day when you don't have school or work and it's full of good things. He helped me come up with the things he will do during the day besides his tablet.
I involve my son in a lot of choices because even though he has special needs, he's still an independent being on the planet, who wants and needs to have a sense of control and autonomy. So where it's appropriate, just like you would for your toddler, let your child make decisions. Giving that especially to your teenager with special needs is absolutely critical so that you don't have the same sort of power struggles that you would otherwise.
Now that we have something put together the real test is putting it into action. Again - yes you CAN do this. It feels awkward at first. You forget to implement because you have patterns to but keep at it you will get there.
We've been working this often enough now that Jack knows some order to things. We have breakfast, we move our body, we say our thank yous. And it's so gratifying to know that I was finally successful in getting this put together for him. I love that he is doing this that I know will help his level of satisfaction in his life even if he doesn't entirely understand why it's helpful. He knows that it is and that is enough.
Every day we make sure that we have some time on our tablet, and make sure we have some time where he's not on his tablet. Depending on the day we will go run some errands or go for a bike ride. Often we'll go for a walk, we really love walking in this house. And that's how we've set up his day. I'm certain this will continue to change and morph and evolve as he gets older. And eventually, it'll become something that he's able to put together himself. I'm involving him in this process as much as possible.
It's the mindset shifts and on-purpose intention, I have decided on that lets things like this happen in our home, in my life. These are things you can decide on to, on purpose. Take a look at your life and consider some things that are pulling you down. Little or big you have tremendous influence in the direction of your life.
Don't forget - Your child is not broken and you CAN do this.
Don't think - just execute.
If you find yourself struggling with this stuff in your life don't do it alone. Reach out.
You can schedule a free coaching call https://calendly.com/consider-jennifer/coaching-session or follow me @considerjennifer on FB, IG, YouTube and TikTok.