Ah, the bittersweet post-holiday season: You’ve made it through the festivities, said farewell to family, and maybe even packed up the decorations. Perhaps today you’ll be going back to work, sending your child to school, and picking up your usual responsibilities.
Since everyone is still gearing up for the return to “regular” life, these first few days of the new year are a great time to get organized and set priorities. And if you’re envisioning this exercise as a tiresome slog, think again.
Chances are, you’ll be surprised at how much energy you’ll gain through this undertaking. Dropping the weight of procrastination off your shoulders allows you to feel lighter and freer.
As such, our FirstPath Autism team compiled this list of key items to help your child start the new year on the right foot. With our autism checklist in hand, you won’t have to wonder whether you’re equipped for success.
Acknowledge and appreciate the progress that your child has made over the past year.
We know, we know … it’s tempting to focus on what you want to happen in your child’s development. You want more milestones reached, stat!
But instead of driving forward, take a moment to recognize the gains that your child has already made.
For example, perhaps Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy has given your child the ability to pull on his sneakers independently.
True, he’s not yet able tie his laces correctly, but before he began working with his ABA clinician, he might not have been even interested in putting on his shoes by himself.
Now, he’s making unprompted attempts to tie those laces into bows. That’s a step toward self-reliance, and that’s worth honoring.
Also remember that making visible headway (and taking pause to recognize our gains) ultimately fuels more progress.
As productivity expert, author, and blogger Laura Vanderkam writes in her book I Know How She Does It:
“Much psychological research finds that the key to workplace happiness is a sense of progress. Day by day, you are getting somewhere …. When we work enough to see our careers flourish, we find work energizing.”
By the same token, when you and your child engage in ABA therapy while recognizing and celebrating advancements, you’ll both gain more energy to invest in future learning.
Identify your child’s most significant skill gaps and work to bridge them.
In partnership with your child’s ABA clinician, look at your child’s life skill learning gaps, and make a plan to address them in the new year.
That said, remember to be strategic about this step of the autism checklist, because many skill sets build on one another.
You don’t want to discourage your child by pushing him to master a complicated task without providing training in the fundamentals.
As FirstPath founder Romina Kiryakous says in our introductory video, “The Treatment”:
“Oftentimes, people are not teaching the prerequisites to a skill, so they are hopping around or they’re just going to different domains, and then the child has splintered skills.”
By contrast, when you teach skills in the proper order, your child gains momentum more quickly. The confidence and self-esteem boost that comes from mastering one skill then make learning related skills easier.
Once you’ve zeroed in on the necessary skill sets, you’ll want to prioritize time to practice them. That brings us to our next point …
Examine your at-home ABA routines and develop a sustainable schedule.
Sometimes, the hardest part of providing in-home ABA reinforcement is simply figuring out when to get it done! That’s why we encourage you to review your family’s schedule and set a consistent time just for ABA therapy practice.
Every family is different, so you may need to experiment and find out what daily time slot works for you. In general, you won’t want to attempt new learning at a time when your child is reliably hungry or tired, such as just before mealtime or bedtime.
Establish a consistent morning routine.
Having a regular routine helps to prevent one of the biggest impediments to learning: sleep deprivation. When you facilitate consistent sleep, you give your child a much better chance at socializing successfully.
As we wrote in our blog post A morning routine will help your child improve their social skills:
“A consistent morning routine reinforces a regular sleep schedule, which is key to success in school and socialization. There’s a strong connection between restful sleep and positive social interactions. Lack of sleep makes interpersonal communication a struggle.”
Practice social skills, especially personal greetings.
If you want your child to build a strong social skills foundation, what’s one key skill to add to your autism checklist this year? The personal greeting.
Prompt your child to greet his or her peers, teachers, and ABA clinicians and establish a habit of saying “Hello.” Voicing a greeting encourages independence and paves the way for favorable social experiences.
In our blog post, The most important social skill to practice with your child with autism, we wrote:
“Greeting another person with a ‘Hello!’ and a handshake may seem so simple as to be forgettable, but it’s not. In reality, it’s a powerful part of both first impressions and ongoing relationships. It sets the tone for interactions, and it’s an important cultural ritual too.”
Practice emotional regulation skills.
When you review how to identify and express emotions with your child, you offer meaningful support for every area of life, from social skills development to academic learning.
For more on this topic, check out our post How to equip your child with emotional regulation skills.
Get support yourself.
On the most basic level, take care of your physical body. You wouldn’t skip out on scheduling medical appointments for your child, so don’t neglect yourself in that way either. Plus, you won’t have the energy to teach your child if you feel sick and run-down.
When you block off time to call to the pediatrician, dial your own specialists, too. Make necessary medical appointments as a gift to yourself and to your family this year.