Special Needs and the Challenge of Change

Illustration showing the feet of a boy stepping between different events labeled Final Exams, Dentist Appointment, Soccer at Park. Mother's feet face his and she holds a large pencil.
Ciro Romero

When my son, Charlie, was younger, his autism made daily transitions difficult for the entire family. One Sunday I had to drive my daughter to choir practice and bring Charlie along. When it was time to go, Charlie started screaming and throwing himself on the floor, his face beet red. During these episodes, his resistance was so intense that I couldn't lift him, so we were forced to wait until the tantrum subsided.

After I dropped off my daughter 30 minutes late, I cried all the way home. I knew my boy was struggling to communicate that the transition from one activity to another was hard for him.

Change can be devastating for kids with special needs, whether it's a small daily transition or a larger one such as a new therapist or school year. But there are strategies to help ease any transition. Here are a few suggestions:

Prepare

I created several short stories reviewing each coming change and read them repeatedly to Charlie. If we had to leave the house, I gave him a warning two hours beforehand. As the departure time grew nearer, I gave more warnings. I used "First we'll ____, then we'll _____" language constantly, alerting Charlie to what was going to happen next, as well as the "fun" thing that would follow.

It's also helpful to include something positive to reinforce your child's appropriate behavior. To help Charlie leave the house, I laminated strips of paper that read: "Sometimes things change, and change is good." I placed the signs in Charlie's room, on the front door and in the car.

Practice

When you know a transition is coming (especially a major one), practice ahead of time. I spent six months preparing Charlie for sixth grade, where he would need to move from room to room for each of his subjects. We visited the school when it was quiet and looked at all the different places he would go. I took photos, and we looked at them together many times.

Pray

The Lord knows all about our kids' transition struggles and wants us to look to Him for guidance. There were many nights when I cried out for Him to help me help my son. He always gave me hope. He always showed me His grace and love. 

Patty Myers directs a special-needs school in Florida.

This article first appeared in the October/November 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was titled "The Challenge of Change." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2015 by Patty Myers. Used by permission.

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