Monthly Archives: June 2015

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Sports day – Tips to support the child with autism.

To support the child with autism on sports day try stepping into their shoes.


Imagine that you are a non swimmer, but five days a week you MUST go on a sail boat. You have been doing this for sometime.

It is less terrifying than it was at the start because there are certain things you now know about the journey.


  • You have learnt the familiar landmarks to look out for.
  • You have learnt how long the journey will last.
  • You are secure in the knowledge that at the end of the day you will be back home and safe.


These ‘knowns’ make you feel braver and safer.


Today is different though…


Today you have been asked to wear different clothes and shoes.


You are nervous and reluctant, but you get on the ‘boat’.


The journey starts off the same, but them the boat takes a different direction.

The weather is changing.

You can feel a storm is starting.

You look around for the life saving rings usually hanging along the side (just in case), but they are gone.

You have not experienced this before.

What if you sink?

What if you are knocked over board and no one sees?

Suddenly you realise that you are not safe.


You look around for some reassurance, but things get worse and worse. You begin to panic, but no one sees it.


You feel you have three options:


1) Fight

2) Flight

3) Retreat


It is too late for fight now.

Flight is impossible for a non swimmer in the middle of the sea.

You choose ‘retreat’ and hide in a little nook.

You put your head down, cover your ears and close your eyes hoping that you will survive the storm.

Or maybe you do nothing different, but you do still FEEL the fear and discomfort.


The best way to help a child with autism deal with a ‘different day’ is to understand, prepare, inform, reassure and compromise.


A teacher might think that on sports day there is less need to put up their visual schedule. They replace the whole timetable with a ‘Sports Day’ symbol. Worse still they leave the previous days schedule up, which will completely confuse.


The child with autism arrives at school. Change is in the air and they look to the timetable for reassurance.

Knowing what is ‘next’ is part of what makes them feel safe and able to get through the school day.

On ‘different days’ the child with autism needs visual supports and information more than ever.


Ten Hints for Sports Day Success


Visual schedules are more important than ever on ‘different days’.

Show on a calendar that the change is only for one day.

Prepare to compromise on different clothes.

Prepare for disappointments with social storiesTM.

Have a sticker, medal or reward ready for every child who takes part.

Try to build in some ‘normal’ routines the child can cling to.

Praise the children who do not win for excellent sportsmanship.

Reduce expectations to suit. Do they need to sit through every race?

Build in some fun activities such as throwing water sponges at teachers.

Speak up and be proud of what the child IS achieving by taking part.


 ’I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.

The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’

Nelson Mandela


Helping that special child who hits.

A few months ago our daughter Darcy came home from preschool saying that ‘Billy’ had hit her and often hurt her. The hurting had happened quite a few times despite him being told “No” by teachers.


I asked Darcy why she thought Billy might have hit her.


She thought about it a bit, but could not think of a reason. “Is Billy bad?” she asked?


Instinct told me that Darcy was best placed to help Billy learn.


“Billy is NOT bad.” I said. “Maybe he wants you to play with him and does not know how to ask. Some children need to learn how to make friends in preschool. Maybe Billy is hitting because he likes you and he does not know how to show it. Maybe Billy needs a friend.”


I suggested that Darcy could help Billy learn to be a friend. She could show and tell him the sorts of things that friends do.


We did not speak about it again.


Months later we we were doing some gardening and Darcy said, “Billy is my friend now. He doesn’t hurt me anymore.”


“That’s great!” I said and then I remembered our previous conversation. “How did you make friends?”


“I told him be nice, do what I do – play and no hurting,” said Darcy.


I hugged Darcy and told her that she had made me very proud.


Darcy had helped little Billy with a social hurdle, simply and brilliantly and in a way that a grown up never could. Billy now has a friend, a role model and great potential to make more friends. Darcy could have changed his whole school experience.


I’ve heard parents and professionals observing a child who hurts say: “One day another child will hit him back.” But what would being hit back really achieve? The reaction may indeed ‘teach the child a lesson’, but it will be the wrong lesson.


Behaviour is so often a form of communication. We must always look for the roots. We must help our children to understand the roots and become role models.


If a child hits or kicks or knocks over brick towers then they do not need punishments. They need support and clear role models. They need directions and the chance to show they CAN. They need this to happen in the right way before behaviour habits begin to form.


The child who has been hurt may be best placed to turn things around.


Plant the seed. Children learn best from other children.


The conversation I had with Darcy made me very proud and reinforced my belief that children are our best teachers.


Ten hints to handle hitting


Be aware of triggers such as hunger, tiredness, boredom and avoid them.

Be aware of things that create anxiety such as noises, lighting and crowds.

Use visuals to forewarn children of changes to the typical schedule.

Support with small group structures if they are not ready to mingle with the masses.

Take the time to role play and teach play skills, pointing out good role models.

Use social stories to explain expectations in a clear and consistent way.

Use comic strip pictures to clarify why incidents have happened.

Explain the behaviours and promote a helping attitude to avoid social isolation.

Invite parents in. Strengthen and support them with strategies for home.

Use clear praise attached to ‘good’ visuals when the child gets things right.