Getting ready for a change in environment, activity, or caregiver with a child with Down syndrome can be challenging. Down syndrome looks different from child to child in terms of learning support needs, health needs, and behavior support needs. However, many children with Down syndrome also struggle with self-regulation in the face of change and might be referred to as “stubborn”. Big changes like remote learning or small changes like getting on the bus may get an entire day off-track. We will break down some tips for supporting your child with transitions.
1. Have a schedule
- Write out a daily schedule, half-day schedule, or activity schedule. The length of your schedule will depend on how often there are struggles with the transitions.
- If you have 1 to 2 struggles to transition throughout the day, a daily schedule might be a good option.
- If you between 2 and 5 struggles to transition throughout the day, you may want to try a more detailed half-day schedule.
- If you have more than 5 challenges in a typical day, try to break it down into 1-2 hour clusters.
- Include things happening that day down to the detail your child needs (hour, half-hour, minute). If your child is a non-reader, have little pictures representing the activities.
- Include some preferred activities throughout the schedule. If your child is motivated by iPad time, make sure that’s represented multiple times on the schedule. It might help to put them directly after activities that they don’t enjoy so much.
2. Explore why it might be happening
- When we look at behavior, we try to figure out why it’s happening. That way, we have options to respond when the behavior occurs. It also allows us to get ahead of the behavior by knowing what to expect.
- If your child is avoiding the unpreferred activity
- Try a visual timer for how long they have to do the unpreferred activity until they get their reward (whatever motivates them). Continue to show them the schedule that says what’s coming up next.
- Try a token economy system. You give them a sticker, coin, or stamp every time they do something as a part of the unpreferred activity. Once they earn x amount of tokens, they get to do the preferred activity. It should be something different than the “breaks” of preferred activities on the schedule.
- Shape the behavior by encouraging things that are close to what you want them to do. If they are throwing things, you can wait until they stop and then say, “I love seeing your calm body getting ready.” Then, you can give them a token.
- If your child gets more attention from you when they’re not listening
- Try a visual reminder by solely pointing to the schedule instead of engaging verbally. Try your best to avoid looking at your child as well.
- Try to use positive reinforcement to say the things you want them to keep doing instead of what you want them to stop doing.
- E.g. if they’re laying on the floor crying, then they stop crying when you ignore the behavior, you can say, “You’re getting your body ready to work when you stop crying. Nice work!”
3. Positive reinforcement
Work to adjust your language to point out the specific things they are doing right. Even if they are not motivated by attention, this will help them know what is expected of them.
4. Connect with clinicians
- Clinical psychologists at The Goldman Center can help provide you with a full-scale evaluation that can further explore why the behaviors are occurring.
- ABA Therapists through the Chicago ABA Therapy can help you set up some of the behavior management tools like the daily schedule, token system, and positive reinforcement. ABA therapy can support children with developmental disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities.