Many children are excited when schools announce a snow day so they can make a snowman, go sliding on a snowy hill, or watch the snow fall outside their window. When winter weather approaches and schools are closed for the whole day or there is a delayed opening, children with autism spectrum disorder often have to cope with disruptions to their established routines and daily expectations. Changes in school schedules with cancellations and/or delays, difficulty with transportation, and limitations on daily activities can pose challenges to children and their families. Preparing a child for changes can help reduce maladaptive behaviors and clarify expectations when the unexpected occurs. Here are strategies you can use during snowy days with your child:
Discuss the Possibility of School Closing Before it Happens
As soon as it looks like a snowstorm is approaching and there may be a weather-related closing or delay, begin to talk with your child about the possibility school will be closed or have a delayed opening. Explain that the snow makes it dangerous to drive or walk to school and it will be safer to stay home. Use weekly or monthly calendars to help your child understand any changes to their typical daily expectations. The visual support of a calendar lets your child know exactly when a change is taking place. Use pictures, if necessary, and talk about the fun activities that can be done at home instead of going to school. When the actual snow day occurs, knowing that alternative activities are available will most likely keep your child’s behaviors to a minimum.
Have Visual Supports Such as Choice Boards Available, if Necessary
As children with autism spectrum disorder prepare for non-routine activities like those that happen during winter weather event, having a visual way to communicate alternative activity choices can be a strategy. Choice boards give children a way to visually see all of the options available at a particular time. Playing in the snow can be fun and exciting, but it may also mean another preferred activity cannot happen, like riding a bike. A choice board can also be used to clearly communicate what activities may not take place. For example, a choice board can have pictures of activities your child can do during the snow day such as building a snowman, sledding, and indoor activities; yet the choice board can show that a preferred activity like riding a bike is not an option.
Be Prepared with New Activities for your Child to Play with During Snow Days
If your child prefers to stay indoors, have a special container or new and fun things to do just on snow days. These activities might include movies, music, books and toys that are used only on snow days. You can even include special snacks or treats as well. Make sure that the items and activities are only used on days when the schedule changes abruptly. In addition, take out only one item at a time to avoid over-stimulation.
Lastly, have fun outdoors or indoors during a snow day!
For information about Northeast Arc’s Autism ABA Program, contact Stacey Villani at 978-624-2340.