For kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families, venturing out into the community, even for casual errands, can be challenging. Children who have autism may have a hard time understanding the social cues that guide appropriate and safe behaviors outside the home.
This may make you hesitant to take your child out in public. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to increase your child’s success when out in the community.
Children with autism may wander or run away. Use these strategies to discourage your child from wandering:
- When out with multiple caregivers, take turns being on watching duty. Give each other breaks and clearly communicate shift changes.
- Position yourself between your child and any potentially dangerous areas, such as lakes or parking lots.
- Set clear boundaries with your child when you take him to a new environment. If an area doesn’t have clear boundaries, such as a playground, have your child walk with you around the area you would like for him to stay within.
- Teach your child to report identifying information, such as his name or phone number, or attach this information to the child in some way like onto a shoe tag or bracelet.
Preventing problem behavior
Children with autism may struggle in crowded or new situations, which may result in tantrums. Try preventing tantrums by implementing a few of these tips:
- Prepare your child for the event before leaving home. Make sure he knows what to expect and the rules of the place he’s going.
- Allow your child to take a favorite toy, when possible. For example, if doctor visits are a common concern, you may save a favorite toy and allow him to have it during the visit.
- Provide frequent breaks. Try setting a timer that your child can see. Take breaks to walk outside or sit in the car away from the commotion.
- If you can tell that your child is beginning to have a tantrum, position yourself to prevent injury or damage. You may want to redirect your child to a chair, place yourself between him and strangers or remove breakable items from his reach.
Practice makes perfect
Give your child plenty of chances to practice being in challenging environments. Start in a setting where your child is likely to be successful. If he struggles with crowded grocery stores, start in small convenience stores during off-peak hours. When practicing, be sure to:
- Shorten your visit and ensure all of your attention can be dedicated to helping your child through the situation.
- Make changes based on your child’s progress. When successful, you can gradually increase the amount of time you stay and try progressing to more challenging settings.
- Create cards that say your child has autism. Use these for times when other people in your community ask questions about your child’s behavior. Some caregivers find it helpful to be able to hand the cards to onlookers and avoid undesired conversations.
Reward positive behaviors
Remember to praise and reward your child with positive feedback frequently. Recognition is especially important to kids with autism. At first, you child may need near-constant praise and rewards for appropriate behavior in these settings. However, these can be decreased as your child experiences success. Read more about setting goals and tracking your child’s behavior.
We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of these articles may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.