5 tips to help your child enjoy classroom celebrations
On Valentine’s Day, we celebrate the people most important in our lives. But for children with autism, the holiday all about love can be overwhelming and confusing.
Many schools have classroom celebrations where kids participate in fun Valentine’s Day activities and exchange cards and treats with one another. For a child with autism who hasn’t learned important social skills, the celebration isn’t much fun. While they want to participate and enjoy the celebration like their peers, it can be a challenging environment to say the least.
A change in routine, hearing unfamiliar words and phrases, seeing unusual decorations, and a lot of commotion and activities in the classroom can all have the potential to trigger unwanted behavior. Of course it’s hard to avoid all of these things, but you can takes steps so your child with autism doesn’t have to struggle on this fun holiday, and instead, can feel appreciated, cared for, loved, and valued. Let’s take a look!
- Have a conversation. It’s important to share information with your child about what will happen on Valentine’s Day. Talk with your child’s teacher in advance to get a schedule of classroom activities, along with other important details (like if classmates will be wearing pink and red clothes or if the furniture will be rearranged). Start talking to your child the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, so they have some time to process the information. Try to be as detailed as possible so they know exactly what to expect to help them avoid unwelcome surprises.
- Define Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day vocabulary can be confusing for all children, especially those with autism. It’s helpful to discuss the meaning of Valentine’s Day and interpret some of the terminology commonly used on the holiday. For example, you may want to explain the phrase “Be My Valentine” or “Be Mine” simply means “Be my friend” when cards and treats are exchanged among classmates.
- Solicit your child’s ideas and interests. Your child may already have an idea of what type of candy or gift they want to exchange with their classmates based on their unique interests or things they’ve heard or seen leading up to the holiday. Encourage independence and support your child’s special interest by giving them the chance to select the Valentine’s Day cards and snacks they wish to exchange with their classmates. If they’re unable to find something that interests them, encourage them to create their own. Make it a fun activity to do together or turn preparing/signing cards into a game. For less-verbal children, present them with two or three choices they can choose by pointing, signing, or using their communication device. Your child may be less engaged in the emotional and social side of Valentine’s Day, so having something they’ve picked out or created themselves can help them stay engaged on that day.
- Role-play with your child. Role-playing is a great way to learn by doing. It helps kids with autism familiarize themselves with common social interactions and gives them the language and actions needed to engage in different activities and situations. To prepare for Valentine’s Day, if your child is open to role-play, you could practice giving and receiving cards together, what to say, and how to act in each of these situations as you reverse the roles between you. Be sure to include different types of reactions, which may vary from child to child, which will help your child stay flexible if a reaction is not exactly as practiced.
- Write a social story. Many parents find it helpful to write a social story, detailing what will happen at specific events and in certain situations. Social stories are a social learning tool that can help to build social understanding of everyday circumstances by enabling children with autism to visualize and predict their role in an event and its outcome.
Every child deserves to lead a happy, fulfilling life despite the challenges of language and social deficits. Ultimately, the best way to give your child a brighter future is to enroll them in ABA therapy – the gold standard care for autism. ABA therapy, started as early as two years old, can have a significant impact on your child’s success in school and beyond.
To find an accredited ABA therapy provider near you, click here. The Behavior Exchange is proud to have earned the highest accreditation possible as a Behavioral Health Center of Excellence®, and we have more than two decades of experience helping children and families throughout North Texas and Boulder, Colorado.
Contact our autism experts today! You’ll love how our ABA therapy programs make learning fun.