01 Feb Helping Your Child Handle Change
Recently, a family shared a post about how a snack company went above and beyond for their child with autism. Their son, who loved a certain snack food that came in very specific packaging, started refusing to eat the snack. This was because the company switched the labeling on the front of the snack.
Ordinarily new packaging wouldn’t be a big deal, and a mom or dad could easily convince their child that it’s the same snack in the bag regardless of the picture on the front. However, in this situation, this particular snack was one of only three foods that this child ate. It was a pretty big deal for the boy, and he started having daily meltdowns.
So, the family wrote to the company sharing their story. In turn, the company specially prepared the old packaging with the child’s snack, and sent a whole bunch to the family.
Wow, this was an amazingly kind thing to do… or WAS IT?
While this child can now happily enjoy his snack, what happens when the snack runs out again? Or, what happens when another company changes their packaging? Or worse, what happens when a ton of other things in his environment change, like street sign designs, his sippy cup design (this actually happened to another family), menus in restaurants, labels on shampoos and soaps, and the list goes on and on.
There is no doubt about it; change is incredibly difficult for many children, especially those with autism. It can be hard and seriously stressful for all involved, but learning how to handle change is a life-lesson that is incredibly necessary.
So, what do you do when your child eats only three foods and the packaging suddenly changes without warning?
First, you take a deep breath. You are all going to get through this. Your child feeds off of your energy. So, if you freak out, he will too.
Next, think about the food’s texture, color, and smell. Is this something that is crunchy, warm, or mushy? Brainstorm what other foods contain these same characteristics. Start preparing or buying those foods and expose your child to them several times throughout the day.
Try not to get yourself in this position in the first place. Be aware that change is difficult for your child. Start taking snacks out of their packaging, and put them on plates, in bowls, in Ziploc bags, and in Tupperware containers.
Mix other foods into the snack so that it doesn’t always look the same. This will help your child to not get “stuck” on the way the food looks. If he likes mac and cheese, try using different types of cheese and noodles so that he experiences a variety.
During meals and snack-times, expose your child to different types of food. You can put new food items on his plate, or on a plate near him. Talk about the food, let him touch it, and even allow him to play with his food. This will enable him to experience the food before he actually eats it. The hope is that he will become more comfortable with a variety of food, so that trying new foods won’t be as stressful.
Carry this practice over to other areas in your child’s life. Use different cups at dinnertime. Don’t always give him the same plate. Encourage him to wear different shoes, let him sit in different chairs at the table, and try driving new routes to get to your destinations.
Help your child handle change, by incorporating small changes into his daily routine. Be strategic about it, so as to not overwhelm him. You are helping your child with something that will affect him the rest of his life.
It’s not as easy as just purchasing the same snack food in new packaging. But, there are several preventative measures that you can take, so that your child is prepared for the inevitable changes that life brings.
What kinds of changes are overwhelming for your child?
For more support and strategies, please be sure to check out our online program, The Autism Solutions Blueprint. There is a section focused on sensory challenges (among 11 other topics), visual tools that you can print out, and video trainings to walk you through how to make your home autism-friendly. In honor of April being Autism Awareness Month, you can literally pay whatever you can afford for this program for the next few weeks. Click here for more information.