A transition tip

reading-to-babyChange. Transition. Whatever you call it, it can be really, really hard for kids with special needs. Going from one activity to the next, or one place to another, can be a huge struggle. This post will focus on one tip to help you and your little one get through transitions.

One technique that I found so helpful for my daughter was creating “memory books.” I touched upon this topic in my prior blog post on Re-entry: life after vacation. However, this method can be used for any kind of transition. The purpose of the book is to document the experience for your child and to provide a lasting positive memory. The most important factor in making your book is to make it personal.

What is an example of a memory book?

If you go to Grandma’s house for dinner frequently, and each time it is a struggle to get out of the house, and another struggle to get back home, then make a book about this trip. The book will tell the story and show photos of your child in each step of the process of going to Grandma’s house.  To do this you would need to take photos of your child at home, getting dressed, getting in to the car, arriving at Grandma’s house, sitting and eating at her dinner table, and finally another one arriving back home after the dinner. The photo of arriving back home is critically important. It helps your little one see that there is a progression in the process and that he will be back in his own home at the end of this outing.

Kids LOVE seeing themselves in books. The more he sees himself in his books going on outings, trips, or simply to daycare or school, without tears and tantrums, the more he will be able to connect with this side of himself. It slowly provides confidence. And, the more books you create, the more your child has “proof” that he can transition. Once your child is a bit older, he can “read” the books to himself.

How do you make your own memory book?

You can create your own book very inexpensively. Get a large piece of white poster board paper and a roll of clear Contact paper. Then, cut and fold the poster board into sections to make a book, and tape the end to bind it. A total of 6 or 8 pages will do very well. Title the book simply – “Chris goes to Grandma and Grandpa’s house,” “Chris goes to Daycare,” “Going to speech therapy,” “Going to a Birthday Party” or “Going to the Grocery Store,” etc. Then, on each page, glue a photo of your child in each step of the process and write something positive about your child. For example, for a photo of eating at the table, write something like “Eric loves eating pasta at Grandma’s house. He does a great job sitting at the table.” End the book with that all important photo of your child being back in his home again. Then, use the Contact paper to cover the entire page. It makes the pages smooth and resistant to tears, which will make your book last much longer. (My daughter still has all of her books and loves to look back at them from time to time to evoke memories.) As your child gets older, you can include him in the process and make memory books together.

How should you use the memory book?

You can use your books to read to your child anytime you need to prepare him for an upcoming transition. But, be careful you don’t read the book too far in advance, or your child may start stressing about it far too early. Only you know the timing that is best, and you may have to tweak your timing as your child grows and adjusts.

You can read the books at bedtime as a way of reinforcing past trips. Be sure to heap praise on your little one for having done such a good job going to Grandma’s – really focus on all the things he did right. In reality, you can read the books anytime and keep them anywhere. I used to keep a book about going to school in the car. As soon as my daughter was in her car seat, she’d pick it up and “read” it on the way to school. It made drop off much smoother.

Bottom line

Remember, change is scary for a child with special needs. He not only does not like it, he fears it. So, it will take time to have him internalize the fact that he can face it and survive it. It will not happen overnight, but stay with it and it will begin to happen over time.

Do you have a good tip to help get through transitions? We’d love to hear what works for your little one.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started on January 16, 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

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