Let’s think about predictability. How do we create that for a person on the autism spectrum and why do they need that anyway? Predictability lessens anxiety. Individuals with ASD are not good at predicting future outcomes, have difficulty seeing the “big picture” and tend to be detail focused. They need to know the beginning and end of a task. We know that memory is a strength, but imagination is not. What I mean by imagination is not creative ability, but rather the ability to imagine alternative outcomes in a situation. For example, if you teach a child to take the bus are they able to come up with another plan if the bus is late or does not arrive at all? Is there flexibility in the thinking process?
There are some great ways to create predictability in a person’s life. One way is by using visual supports. These can be in the form of a visual schedule using actual objects if the child is at the three dimensional stage of representation, pic symbols, photos, or text if they can read. Seeing the “whole picture” on a schedule give the person the security of knowing what will happen next. Checklists are great too and can be used to break down routines or tasks. Structured activities can also build in predictability. Some great examples of these can be found in Tasks Galore, Tasks Galore for the Real World and the most recent book Tasks Galore: Let’s Play.
Using units of time can also demonstrate how long a task will last creating predictability for an ending. These units can be shown by a simple Velcro strip on a piece of cardboard with poker chips on them to visually represent units of time. You then pull each poker chip off as the task progresses eventually reaching the end of the strip. This is a great way for you to control the time if things are going well. Time Timers also visually show time. You can also use sand timers in different sizes for different lengths of time or what I call goo tubes- the goo runs through a tube very slowly until it all reaches the bottom.
Other tools for creating predictability are social stories that show how routines, tasks and activities unfold and what will happen. Power Cards use a person’s hero to help remind them what to do in certain situations and again create a feeling of comfort because they are visual reminders and also include the person’s favorite character or hero who can often be a special interest.
Predictability in routines, tasks, the school day, and activities is the key to lessening anxiety and creating a level of comfort. Most of us like to know what is going to happen to us in situations and want routine, just like a person with autism does. Thanks, John, for teaching us another great lesson. We learn so much from our voices from the autism spectrum.
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