Communicate Structure and Boundaries for Kids with Autism

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It’s actually a topic I really like to talk about. I know that some of the families have received other information from me in terms of using visuals. However, what I’ve done is because of the situation that we’re all in, I’ve made some minor adjustments, but I’m also keeping the concept of the importance of using visual supports in the home and how it can communicate structure and boundaries.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful tool. So I will talk a little bit about it. I will stop periodically to see if anyone has any questions just to make sure, that everyone is getting the input that they need so that you guys can go ahead and implement the strategies. All right. So one of the things that, you know, is really a struggle for most parents and family caregivers is I know I should be using visuals.

Where Do I Start?

I was given visuals by my child’s therapist, but I don’t know where to start. I don’t know which visuals to use. I don’t even know what I should use visuals for. And keeping in mind that every child is different. Visuals look different for each child. They look different as they grow older. And visuals have many purposes, but one of the purposes is to set structure and boundaries so that you don’t have to keep giving verbal prompts and it builds that independence, for our kiddos.

So one of the things that I know, coach parents on in terms of, you know, where do I start is you really have to decide what you want to get done. And, I made changes in this, presentation in regards to what’s going on now. And what’s going on now is we are home. kids are, not going to school, not going to daycare.

Some folks, it’s because of school outages. Some folks, it’s because of extended spring break, but it seems like the majority of families are, pretty much 27 set in 24/7 with their kiddos. And so it’s like, what do I want to get done?

And one of the easiest tips is to break your daily routine into three to four parts. And when you do that, that it’s easier for you to tackle. And instead of maybe thinking, this is what I want to get done all through the day, it’s like, what do I want to get done before lunch?

What do I want to get done in the afternoon and what do I want our evenings to look like? And that includes now for some of us it does include school. I mean a lot of us are doing homeschool or teachers have sent packets home and a therapist or doing teletherapy or trying to do teletherapy, which has been very interesting.

But I also encourage, families to delegate responsibilities and when I say delegate responsibilities, I’m not speaking of delegating responsibilities only to the other adults. I do think that this is a good time for us to delegate some of those responsibilities that our children may not have had.

And this can build some self-help skills. Something really simple. I, you know, have been recommending to a few families based on age appropriateness. A child, you know, age five, six can empty the bathroom, trash can, you know, that’s a responsibility that teaches the concept of chores and it is really sort of self-esteem boosting.

But it’s, but it’s thinking in terms of there are some things, there are many things that our kids can do. And so when you make your list of what you want to get accomplished, delegate those responsibilities out.

What Do I Need to Get Done?

When you’re thinking of what you want to get done, you know, the big, big, in our face right now are tasks for our kids. What am I going to do to fill all of these hours that they would typically be at therapy, in school, or at daycare?

And that comes into play in terms of, you know, having that, you know, crafts ready, having sensory activities ready, all of those things that your parent coach has been giving you to work on or those lists of things that you can do, you know, break everything out now.

Get it all ready as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be really simple. But thinking of what are those tasks you need to get done. The other part is we have household responsibilities, right? We need to get dinner on the table.

We have to do laundry. We have to make phone calls. So what I’m going to do is help you, get some strategies in terms of what you can do with the use of visuals to help your child either attend to a task, stay in a designated area, or know the boundaries of where they can do a sensory activity so that you can get those household responsibilities done.

The other component is how do we get our kids to do work tasks that they typically would do at school or they would do it therapy. And so I’m going to show you some examples of things that you can do in order to, just navigate that through your day without, so much stress and with a little less chaos.

When and How Do I Divide?

And the other part is in terms of when and how you divide these activities and tasks. And I think it’s really, really important for you to know your child’s optimal times. You know, there are certain activities that you don’t want to work on in the afternoon that may just be, you know what, the weather’s great, we’re just going to go outside or free play.

In the playroom. Or even if you just have to give yourself permission to say, you know what, I’m going to give a little bit of extra TV or technology time, maybe an extra movie because I have to get laundry done. I have to do some of these things or I have to work from home and there’s a lot of hours to fill when our kiddos are not in school.

So giving yourself permission to think about when’s your child’s optimal time, when do you need to get permission to give them maybe some extra time on some of those activities that you might have limited.

However, I also want you to remember to set the timer and make sure that it’s very clear to your child when that technology time is finished. And most importantly, what I’ve been talking to parents about is please be realistic about your expectations.

And one of the expectations I have been sort of talking about in sort of a comedy kind of way, but it is something very real for a lot of parents, this is maybe not the time to focus on having a clean mopped floor. This is maybe not the time to want to have everything cleaned up and picked up all the time.

I’m not saying your house should be a mess. I’m saying that this is the time where we are making big adjustments to our work schedule, our kids’ schedule. I’m not being able to leave the house as freely as we may have been before.

So be realistic about what you can expect from yourself and your children and your partner because that will lower your frustration. And I get it. Some of us are really, we like things to be a certain way, but this is the time where I think folks are either going to, just old stay in a state of, Oh my gosh, it’s not clean or learn to really let some of those things go.

I wanted to just quickly if anyone has a question or anything that you want to bring up, I’m gonna pause for just a second then you can unmute yourself, and I will actually demonstrate a pause. That is a strategy for allowing our children to respond.

How Do I Delegate?

So I counted seven seconds in my head. That was a long time to wait. Right? It feels like a really long time. And this is not related to this particular topic. However, and the, modules for communication, that’s one of the strategies, right? Giving that wait time and that’s what it feels like. It’s that long, of a wait.

But that gives our kids time to process and respond whether it’s verbally sign language or their AC device or following directions. Stacy. Yes? Is it bad to let the child watch a cartoon on YouTube while you do some chores? You know, I do not think that it’s necessarily a bad thing. I think that as long as you have structure and boundaries around when it is finished and that’s where using some of these visual supports that I’m going to show examples of will help.

As long as your child can stop when it’s time to stop, you know, this is a time where a lot of things are, we’re giving a lot of more freedom, but we still want to keep that structure. Does that, does that answer your question?

Oh yes. Okay. Alright. So in terms of delegating, and once again, this is something very new in terms of the fact that we are all home for very, very long hours. So you might have to make an announcement, you might have to write down, you might have to create some new visuals to establish some new house rules because maybe a parent is working from home.

Maybe you have one of your older children who is doing online classes or doing teletherapy. So we have to establish those new house rules and you can do that using visuals.

The other thing, you know, as I said, allow our children to, you know, they can take on chores. I know what’s really hard because we want it to look a certain way. We want it to be done a certain way. And another simple chore besides, you know, emptying the bathroom trash can is putting their clothes away or folding their clothes or folding towels. And yes, I understand. We all have a way that we like our stuff to be folded. We like the drawers to be in order.

This is the time to allow yourself to say, you know what, I’m going to let that go and I’m actually going to teach my child a self-help skill and I’m hoping that this creates an opportunity for a lot of parents to open up, their sort of mindset and shift perspective and priorities on everything. Looking perfect and thinking about, Oh! Like my child actually can do this on their own and this is great.

Folding towels, folding their own underwear, and putting their socks away. Matching socks like that is something that your child can do. Any of your children, right? If you only have one, I get it. It may not be a lot of things you can provide for your child, but three-year-old matching socks, right? Folding their shorts or underwear, they just have to fold it over.

That’s great. Fine motor skills. It’s motor coordination so you’re actually working on skills while you are giving them a chore to take over. The other thing is assigning tasks based on priority. And this is where I think if you are in a situation where you have one, or should I say two or more adults in the house, you know, take some time, just a few, you know, 15, 20 minutes to decide what are the priorities of tasks that need to get done.

What are things that we need to make sure are completed, to help our household run? You may have to do a different way of, getting supplies because of some restrictions in your area. So think of, assigning those tasks to the family members and to yourself based on priority.

9 Reasons To Use Visuals

Alright, so let’s talk about the way some of those visuals in the home can be implemented and what they look like. Visuals are super, super helpful and I’m not gonna go through each one of these, but in terms of in your household, you know, visuals are really helpful for allowing your child to process the language, allowing your child to understand what needs to be completed, what needs to be done, and most importantly, when are they finished? Right?

They need to know when they’re done. That’s where the timers come in play. That’s where the visual schedules come into play. And also visuals really do help with that. Independence. I was coaching, a parent earlier in terms of their child is dependent on verbal prompts, verbal prompts. And so we are working on how to implement visuals now so that mom doesn’t have to keep verbally prompting.

These are things that the child knows how to do on their own, but they are sort of looking at the adult to wait for that direction. And visuals can come into play so that your kiddo can get through some of those tasks on their own.

The visuals communicate exactly what you mean. Sometimes our words can be a little gray area for our kiddos. And the other thing that is really helpful is visuals can really help reduce anxiety. But one of the things that we forget about is to remember our kiddos process differently. So visuals don’t have a tone, frustration, or an attitude of disproval.

And even though we may not have that intent, a lot of times our kids, misunderstand our tone of voice or you know, what, sometimes we are frustrated and this time that we are going through whatever this is, a lot of adults have, more anxiety around the unexpected than we previously have had before.

The virus that has seemed to, disrupted our lives. So remember, yes, we understand we’re human, but the visuals will take that component out so it can be very helpful.

The Benefits of Using Visuals at Home

The benefits of using visuals in the home bring chaos to come. Like I cannot stress enough how even simple visuals in terms of a calendar of, you know, where a child has to go or what appointments are.

You have even a calendar in terms of, parent’s work schedule for parents who were still able to work outside of the home. That calendar and that visual really helps. I have a few parents, that are nurses and their schedule has been all over the place. And so having a visual for a child to know when mom or dad is going to be home when they’re going to be out at work.

You know, now grandma or grandpa can’t come to visit. Those visuals really do help in terms of a weekly calendar. I think a monthly calendar, maybe a little bit too much. I think we should take it week by week at this point. But it does help in terms of those little things of changes in their schedule.

Various Types of Visuals

Alright. There are tons and tons of visuals if you go to Pinterest but there are types of visuals that are used for specific reasons. So there is a first then visual, which is simply first I do a non-preferred activity, then I do a preferred activity and I just want to talk about this really quickly in terms of, and I’ll show some pictures but I really want you to understand that a first then is not sequential.

It’s not, you know, first I do my math, then I do my reading. It is really to get a child, to motivate them to do a non-preferred activity. And then they have the preferred activity to look forward to. It’s the same, you know, if I finish cleaning up my dishes, then I get to relax and watch TV, right? That’s sort of like my internal first.

Then the other visual is the component of visual schedules, visual schedules look different and should be individualized for each child and teen, you know, young adult, it should look different. Even if you have more than one child in your home that is diagnosed with autism, they may not have the same visual schedule and visual schedules are supposed to communicate where to go and then when they get there.

So let’s say it’s time for bath time, then you have visual support that tells you what to do when you get there. Right? And that’s where, you know, if you have your morning routine and it’s time to go to the bathroom, you have to brush your teeth. And some of you may have visual supports that show the steps to brushing their teeth. Some of you may be working with the older kids on independent bath skills and you’ll have those visuals.

So just keep that in mind in terms of thinking about what visuals you want to incorporate. And you know, you can, of course, ask your coach, you can email me if you have any questions about which visuals should I use for this, particular situation.

And also one of the things I want you to think about is a visual schedule doesn’t need to be your entire day, and I’ll show you some examples. So let’s look at the example of in the middle of this slide, you see a first, then first then for some kiddos, right, who had been hanging out in their PJ’s or some kids like hanging out in just their undies because they’re home.

In order to go outside, first, we have to put on our clothes, then we can go outside maybe to the park. And this is, you know, I chose this particular visual because it’s not so much that a non-preferred activity of getting dressed.

It’s the idea of sometimes there’s a sensory component to clothes and that’s why our children will you know, choose to sort of being free and hang out at home and whatever’s comfortable. But if we go outside, depending on the weather, we may have to put on a coat and that may not be a preferred thing that they want to do because of sensory.

And we don’t want to torture our kids. That’s not what I’m saying. But in order to go outside, we do have to get dressed. So that’s a really simple example but related to something that we sort of take for granted shouldn’t be a big deal.

The other visual that I wanted to show is in terms of setting boundaries with what your kiddo can have for a snack. And the reason I chose this example of a snack choice board is that lots of families are having difficulties getting their child’s preferred snack items.

Maybe the grocery stores are not fully stocked. Maybe you can’t go to the grocery stores often. I know here in Puerto Rico we have they’ve streamlined restrictions on when and who can go out on what days.

So it is very important if you do not have this particular item, it’s really good for you to have a choice forward on the pantry, on the refrigerator so that your child knows what’s available. And that can decrease that frustration of their expectation that maybe, you know, the Apple sauce would be in the fridge normally, but it’s not.

So thinking in terms of how you can visually demonstrate what your child’s snack choices are based on what you have in the house, there’s nothing more frustrating than a meltdown based on, you don’t have their favorite cookies or their favorite juice. And it may not be necessary that you had any control over it, but you want to minimize the potential for frustration and meltdown.

To communicate that with visuals, what’s available, what they can choose from. And also you can do that with sensory activities. If you’re out of shaving cream, don’t put shaving cream on the schedule because they won’t be available.

And if you look down on Madison’s schedule, this is an example of using visuals to break down your day. And you know, this particular example shows the entire day, but it’s broken down into morning, afternoon, and evening. However, I highly recommend for children under the age of eight that you, I would like maybe cut and separate the morning or cover if you have it on one page you can cover and just, just show what is relevant to that time of the day.

And hopefully, that made sense. The idea is that you don’t want to always put too many visuals on a schedule. You want to break it up for kids who are a little bit younger because sometimes it can be a little bit overwhelming.

And the other part is if you don’t have the afternoon, the evening exposed right away, let’s say that something changes or the weather changes or you realize the internet went out, you can quickly change the visual on their afternoon or evening schedule to indicate something else and take off the item or activity that is not available.

It’s a great way to set boundaries with visuals and to communicate what to expect. Alright, this visual in terms a lot of you may have seen this visual, in terms of, you know, just what do I do when I go to the potty, right? These are the steps and what do I do when I brush my teeth? These are the steps. These are the visual supports, right?

These are not your visual schedules. However, these visual supports help your child understand what the steps are and the goal is for your child as they grow older to be able to do things independently.

And I have also put an example of how to do laundry because I do think it is very important for children at an age-appropriate time to learn to take part in doing their laundry and doing laundry is also great. Sensory input, really good gross motor coordination, activity.

But it is also something that I remind parents as their children get into the young teen years that doing your laundry is a great skill and everyone should learn to do their own laundry. Yes, it may look different for each kid. Yes, you may have to have visuals. Let’s say you put a sticker on the, you know, the button, you press for it to start.

Or maybe they just do the part of their laundry where they take the clothes out of the washing machine and put them in the dryer. But I want everyone to always think about, we need to remember our children do get older. And using those visual supports for them to complete chores with independence is really, really important.

Object Schedules VS. Picture Schedules

Alright. For those of us who have kiddos who are younger, maybe they’re not responding really well to a picture schedule. I wanted to show an example of just using objects. And this is something that a lot of times maybe your speech therapist hasn’t thought about or your teacher of your child, just, you know, says, Oh, they’re not responding.

They’re not using the picture. Get those objects out. And you can see this is really, really simple, right? Like meal time. And they take the object with them the same as they would take the icon. You can see in this picture, the objects are Velcroed and they actually take it with the right to mealtime.

They know it’s time to wash their face. And we co-relate it with a picture because eventually as they get older, we want it to maybe look something similar to the picture on the right where it’s a visual schedule that is just pictured.

And again, visual schedules look different for each kiddo. If you look at this example with the visual schedule where it’s the yellow background, you’ll notice that the words are not very big. Sometimes a visual schedule has to be adjusted where there are no words or sometimes we start putting smaller pictures and bigger words as our children develop their reading skills.

So it doesn’t always have to be pictures. You can progress to words as they get older and build those skills. The idea is that you want to use the visuals to make it very clear what the boundaries are, what’s expected and you’re communicating to your child, what their day is going to look like, and what the task, is going to involve. In terms of, you know, brushing your teeth or taking a bath. Alright, I am going to, I’m not going to let the audio, play.

I’m going to see if I just want you to, to, if this doesn’t work, I’m going to apologize now, but I’m hoping that it does. It worked earlier. Okay. So I’m going to let this run in terms of, this is just a really simple visual schedule for the evening.

This, I just happened to use a paint stick. You can use a piece of cardboard, you can use a ruler. It doesn’t really matter. The idea is that it is something simple. It is something portable. You don’t have to use a cute container. You can just use a Ziploc bag. Really, really simple in terms of them working the icons as they go through their schedule and putting it in the finished bin.

Alright, I’m going to skip through that because I don’t want to, well, maybe let me just do it this way. There we go. Okay. So now, I want to get into some practical things you can do now with what you have already at home.

And I will once again pause if anybody has any questions about a visual schedule, but please know that you can send Stephanie an email or send me an email if you want something specific in terms of a visual schedule or talk to your coach about how you can use one of the visuals that demonstrated. Or if you just want to know where to start, you need some help.

Alright, this picture of a chair tape can be your best friend. And right now some of you have one child at home, some of you have more than one child at home. And this use of tape for setting a visual boundary can be a game-changer.

And if you’ll notice the tape on the table, this can be an indication of where the child, what area they have in terms of either doing a sensory play, a craft, practicing, handwriting or doing work packet that a teacher has given and the other children are maybe sharing the table.

So it’s very clear the tape sets the boundary. However, a lot of parents are also working from home or maybe you are just trying to get some forms completed or you know, check your email. This gives your child a clear boundary as to their space so that you don’t have to keep saying stop.

Don’t put it here. All of those things use the tape. It can be that painters tape you have somewhere in the garage or masking tape. The tape is a wonderful visual boundary. setter, I guess. Or it’s wonderful for setting those boundaries.

I use it all the time in my classroom and I have set up many, many homeschool settings for parents. But also even just if you have more than one child, that can just become a battle. The other part of the tape is on the floor and this is to indicate where that chair can go because sometimes the chair gets in the way or the child pushes against the chair.

And I know this seems super, super simple. I am telling you the tape works. It is amazing how setting the visual boundary communicates very clearly to children where they can, where they need to stop.

And what is their area? It is amazing. This next one is an example of first then in terms of communicating the boundary of TV time is not until after you’ve done your chores right. And chores can be different. So this is a generic picture and I think it also can work for even your kids who may not have communication challenges.

The idea is that you want to think about where you want things to happen and then use the visuals to support that boundary and communicate the boundary. And let me really quickly go back to the tape at the table. Another really good example you can do with tape on the floor.

Let’s say that you are cooking and you have you know, one of your kiddos just really keeps sort of getting in a space that may not be safe and you have to keep saying, don’t stand by the stove.

Get away from the stove. You can put a square or a circle. and tell your kiddo, stand in the square, stand in the square. And that is really a good way to keep them in a safe area while you are cooking and it is very effective. It sounds simple.

It is very effective. You are setting the boundary, you’re communicating to them very clearly and you are keeping them safe. The tape is one of my favorite things to have in my bag. Wherever I’m going to provide support. I wanted to show another example. Let’s say that you have you know, a trampoline or you have a swing or you have a little sensory area.

Everyone doesn’t have the availability of one room. That is just for sensory. Some folks, the sensory room in the playroom has turned into a home office because parents are working from home.

Using tape indicates where your child can either do their walking back and forth where they can do their running. I’ve even, in my classroom, I one once made a small circle and then I made a big circle which made a sort of a walking lap and that’s what I used for my kiddo who needed some sensory input, but we weren’t always able to go to the gym.

The other picture shows an example of setting that boundary in terms of where they can have their toys. Right now everyone’s home, our kids are playing a lot and if you feel like, you know, I just really need one area to not have things scattered all over the place. You can make a tape off the area. And I also have recommended, I have a couple of families that have more than four kids at home where I have actually made some, had them make a big square and they have actually put sections so that when the kiddos need a break from one another, everybody knows which section so that no one’s taking someone else’s Legos or someone’s blocks or whatever it is that, siblings sort of like to, squabble over.

The idea is to think about using visuals to set boundaries and tape is simple. Most of us have some kind of tape somewhere and it really is a game-changer. Alright, another thing that you can use is on the table. If you don’t have tape, you can use, pieces of paper. If you don’t have large colored sheets, it doesn’t really matter.

You can make a mat just taped together, glued together. You know, a couple of sheets of paper, set a clear area where your child is to participate in an activity in terms of if you need to share counter space because you’re cooking and they need to do a sensory activity.

But the idea is I wanted you to see some examples so that you can start thinking of what you can do at home with what you already have. This is an example of using tape, at a table to make sure that the child knows the designated area.

However, also if you’ll notice there are visuals to remind, you could put a visual schedule of how to do arts and craft activity or what activities that we’ll do first and what they will do next. Containers are also really good visual supports for setting boundaries.

You know, use a box, a cardboard box. Remember when it comes to visuals and setting boundaries. It doesn’t have to be beautiful. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be there. Really, really simple. And this is when I tell you taping off an area for a child to stay in for designated tasks really does make a difference. And a lot of times you don’t even have to say anything to them. They just kind of get it. But you can, you know, verbally state this is your area.

Alright, so now that I have shown you some examples of some things that you can do, I hope that everybody’s ready to implement visual supports to communicate those boundaries because this is just one of those like it’s just, everybody’s house has been turned upside down based on schedules and routines and a lot of kids are upset because they don’t have their normal routine or they have to share space, for a lot of hours with a sibling.

So think about using those visuals. Use the team as a support, you know, reach out if you need ideas. And what I want to leave you with is remembering that what children with autism, with wish you knew is that they are very visually oriented. They need to see something to learn it.

And they really like it when you show them rather than telling them over and over and over again. And it also saves you a lot of frustration having to repeat yourself. That can just become exhausting. So what I will do is I’m going to stop sharing.

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