7 Practical and Easy Strategies to Improve the Daily Life of Kids with Special Needs
By Dyan Robson
To get my son diagnosed with autism was a lengthy process. Nearly 15 months from the day we asked for a referral, we were handed a diagnosis. During that time we encountered wait list after wait list, so it was up to us to explore different options and try out new strategies while we waited. We found some that worked, and lots that didn’t. Some of these may work for you and some may not.
Every child is different and different strategies will work for different kids.
So whether your child is diagnosed or not with some kind of special need, there are a variety of things that you can do to help your child’s day run more efficiently. These seven strategies will help reduce the intensity and/or frequency of meltdowns, while improving speech, fine motor skills, self-regulation, social skills, and more.
Create a routine. Kids love predictability and a routine is a great way to offer that stability. Younger kids and kids with special needs like autism benefit from using a visual schedule, one that includes a picture and written words. Including written words is also great for encouraging literacy! Work together every morning to organize your visual schedule so that your kids can see what is planned for the day.
Provide brain breaks. Everyone, not just children, benefits from doing regular brain breaks. Heavy work activities, such as jumping, pushing, pulling, climbing, carrying groceries, carrying laundry, doing animal walks, and doing household chores are excellent brain break activities! Try to do them often throughout the day.
Create a calm down bin. Kids with autism need help self-regulating their emotions. Using a calm down bin is one way to help them learn to self-regulate. A calm down bin can be filled with any items that your kids may find comforting and calming, such as: a bottle of bubbles, relaxation CDs, gum, fidgets, a book of mazes, calming essential oil blends, noise-reducing headphones, etc. When your child starts to get overwhelmed, they can pick an item or two from their calm down bin.
Do yoga together. Yoga is calming for kids, but it also helps develop core strength and improve balance, which a lot of kids with autism and/or sensory issues struggle with.
Play board games together. Kids with autism struggle with social skills and one way to work on improving those social skills is by playing board games together. Your kids can work on turn taking, how to be a good loser, and how to be a good winner. Board games are also great for working on fine motor skills, which a lot of kids with autism need extra help with, and speech issues.
Write social stories. Is there a reoccurring problem that your child is having or an upcoming event that your child is attending? Try writing out a story about it! You can write a social story about practically anything from traveling on an airplane to going to a funeral to having a bath. Use short sentences with specific details and use pictures to support the text.
Do sensory activities every day. Kids with autism need lots of sensory input. Think beyond tactile input though. Some kids are oral sensory seekers and will need to do lots of oral motor sensory activities like blowing bubbles, eating crunchy foods, and sucking thick liquids through a straw. Some kids are vestibular sensory seekers and will need to swing or spin. Try to do proprioceptive sensory activities (think jumping, crashing, climbing, running) before activities that require focus and attention, such as school work, learning times, or mealtimes. You will find they concentrate better after getting some proprioceptive sensory input. Or try offering a wiggle cushion or an exercise ball to help them concentrate while letting them freely get their wiggles out!