Exposing an Autistic Child to Social Events and Outings

Social events and outings with Autistic children - Adelaide Royal Show

Having fun and progressing slowly is essential to success

Autism Related Social Melt-Downs a Real Challenge

As many of you may already know, exposing an autistic child to social events or outings can be a real challenge.


Many autistic children are susceptible to hyper sensitivity and a melt down is always a grim possibility when faced with unfamiliar sites, sounds an smells. Another problem is also that they may not understand what is going on! This is a common problem with autistic children as they usually have problems with communication and so their world becomes a series of routines which they are comfortable with, however if the routine is broken all hell can break loose.

Curve Autistic Behavior with Social Stories and Schedule Strips

Although difficult, social and or non routine events can be introduced to them in a logical step by step fashion ensuring to be very careful to advance at the child’s pace. It is also important to know when your child has had enough and to be prepared to just pack up and leave when necessary.

Social stories are an integral part of preparing the child for an “out of routine experience”. Compics PECS and Boardmaker or alike can be used if the child can not read. It is important that the child has some idea that what is coming up will be something different. The sooner you can inform the child before the exposure the better, this way you can spend time preparing them, if however it needs to be a spare of the moment change due to unforeseen circumstances then you need to have a method in place.

For this reason it is important to start the social outings or out of routine experiences as soon as practicable – or the sooner the better! Be deliberate about planning events just to go through the motions of preparation and have a method you know will work.

Liz started off by using Compics, Pecs and Boardmaker style day strips and social stories. Once Isy started to be able to read Liz moved forward by using a combination of pictures and words – this also helped Isy to learn to read -. Eventually she advanced to word only type day strips and social stories, and now Isy uses a diary where Liz writes her daily schedule and any “different” events.

This works incredibly well, and if there is a sudden unexpected change Liz will cross out the previous plan (if there was one) and or write the new one and get Isy to read it. Once Isy reads the schedule she is usually fine with any changes.

Step by Step Slowly but Surely

These methods really have changed our ability to take Isy places, we can now take her just about anywhere without an issue. Just yesterday we went to the Adelaide Royal Show, this for an Autistic child is certainly a milestone, this is about the sixth year in a row, and for Isy it is the high-lite of the year. Now she patiently waits in cues for her turn on rides and the lights, sounds and crowds do not bother her at all but it has been a slow and arduous affair to get to this stage, but worth every minute and effort.

We started off very cautiously and slowly built up, Liz often takes Isy shopping, just for the exposure but she started off by knowing full well what was ahead by social stories and day schedule strips.

Steps to take to Accustom an Autistic Child to Outings and Events

Not every child is the same, particularly when it comes to ASD, but they do share many similar traits, below is a summary of the steps to take to accustom an Autistic child to social events and outings.

  • Start off slowly and expose them to places and events that you know they might enjoy – for example a Wiggles show or some character or alike that they like.
  • Use pictures to display what lies ahead of them, the more they are aware of wht is going on the less likely they will have a melt down.
  • At the beginning avoid noisy crowded places – we know of some parents that take their Autistic child to car races or concerts – not because the child likes them but because the parents like the events – with no preparation or build up, and then they wonder why the child had a melt down!
  • Slowly but surely build up from picture schedules and social stories to words only, using words and pictures in between – slowly but surely!
  • When going on an outing reward the child with something they might enjoy, but don’t over do it. For Isy it’s usually some hot chips or donuts.
  • As soon as there is a sign of meltdown pack up and leave – asap, or have some method prepared for calming the child!
  • Have fun – it is most important that you and the child have fun, this will cement the foundation for future social events and outings.

Share your experiences – if you have any handy tips or methods that work for you please share them and leave a comment below, we and I imagine many others would love to know anything that may help!

© 2011, EJ Banon. All rights reserved.

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