Today Andrew answers: How can I help my three and half-year-old prepare for going to new places? He really struggles when we first get somewhere and when it's time to leave.
Hi! I’m Andrew from Generation Mindful's newest recurring weekly feature, Ask Andrew. In Ask Andrew, I’ll be taking any and all questions regarding the autism spectrum with particular emphasis on childhood development as an authentic autistic adult. Let’s get started!
For our second Q and A, you can watch the video and/or read my response below.
Q: How can I help my three and half-year-old prepare for going to new places? He really struggles when we first get somewhere and when it's time to leave.
A: I would suggest setting up a clear timeline before you embark. That way, certain experiences won’t come as a surprise. For instance, telling your child we are going to be here for so and so, giving about a five-minute reminder before you depart.
I have observed this to work out well with my five-year-old cousin, who adores her relatives to the point she doesn’t want to budge when it’s time to go. When the adults surrounding her give fair warning, the child feels in on the schedule. It makes it all the more satisfying to see my cousin jump for joy and giggle when we see her.
In my experience, it was a matter of immersion therapy in terms of how I handled arriving at new places. If I went to a place often enough around the age your child is at, I would feel at ease. But that process could be speeded up by additionally showing them images of the place you are going to or describing them.
However, leaving my friends and family or being taken to new places wasn’t as much of an issue as having to accompany my parents when I felt I wasn’t needed. The main difficulties I recall came in regards to running errands with my mom or dad.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, to this day every time I look at a shoe store I find myself thinking “not there, ANYWHERE but there!” all over again. Not because I had a traumatic experience or anything, it was just boring. I couldn’t make any decisions, my mom made all of them for me. And so I acted out by means of attempting to walk away, rudely yawning loudly and griping frequently. I got so excited when we had finally picked out the perfect pair, so outraged when I failed to realize my sister had come with us so she could try pairs on too. “THEY’RE JUST FIRM SOCKS!”
Funnily enough, when it came time to go to the doctor or dentist at a certain age I was well-behaved. I understood the importance of getting my cavities filled; my shots being up to date. But apparently sitting me down to have my feet measured and pulling wadded-out paper out of toe receptacles was going too far? Go figure.
From a child’s often black-and-white perspective, whoever takes you to and fro seems like the bad guy when you get emotional. If any children are watching this, it is important to note while looking after you is their primary responsibility, your parents also need to get the supplies needed to care for themselves and you, see their adult friends, and other miscellaneous activities.
To the adults, consider involving your children more with your errands as they develop. Have them do little things like picking out certain items you tell them to from across the aisle, have them write little check marks on the tasks you have accomplished, that sort of thing. As a result, you have helpers and it’ll give them a boost of self-confidence.
On errands you don’t want to do because you don’t feel you can do anything as a little kid, it can feel like a dull theme park ride, where you can’t get off. On errands you have a bit of power in regards to curating the experience for you and your guardian, it can feel like going to the gift shop.
It is a matter of personal pride that I am the go-to planner among my circle of friends. I know for a fact that this has originated from a desire as a young autistic boy for autonomy and the fact my parents trusted me to be of help to them. There is nothing more reassuring to our community than to know people trust our judgment and to deliver on that promise of trust consistently.
And to prove my money is where my mouth is, the next time I need a pair of new shoes, I will conquer my fears and personally patron a shoe store by myself. And I’ll upload a picture of me doing it.
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