Reasonable adjustments are changes that your school or family makes to remove or reduce a disadvantage because of your neurodivergent needs around routine and change. You can ask for reasonable adjustments to be made.
Make a list or organising specific routine always helps to make us feel calmer. In particular, after school or bedtime routines will help to calm. Include one or two of the calming quick fixes identified below.
When the young person cannot hear what others are saying or cannot focus, a visual timetable or written list of what to do may help as a reference.
Try to consider the young person’s environment and what could be done to reduce possible trigger stressors and help positive experiences. Home, leisure, activities, colleges, clubs etc, times alone and with others need to be investigated. Think about this carefully and it may make a positive difference. Be a detective to look at the environment in the light of sensitivities and preferences of young people.
The young person may be stimulated positively or negatively just by the environment around them. For all of us the light can be too bright, the room too noisy, the glare of the sun too dazzling, affecting how we feel.
Inside the home
Developing a routine and a consistent way of doing things is really helpful and can reduce the impact of over-reacting. Organisation can give the young person a sense of control over how they plan their day.
Provide a place where the young person can take themselves for time out, for example a small tent or cabin bed. Young people affected by sensory sensitivity often find dark and enclosed spaces calming.
- Avoid auditory (sound) and visual stimulation that is not necessary.
- If the young person has a positive response to movement, try a rocking horse or chair swing.
- Paint the young person’s room soft pastel colours and put dark blinds or lined curtains on windows to prevent light distracting the young person
- If possible, situate the young person’s room in a quiet corner of your house.
- Give your young person ‘heavy tasks’ around the house, e.g. carrying the shopping, arranging tins on shelves. This may have a calming and organising effect.
- Minimise clutter
- Sharing a bedroom with a sibling can be difficult. Clear boundaries may be helpful as can a ‘timetable’ for time in the bedroom for each person.
- Try to structure the young person’s time and consider introducing an ‘activity schedule’ to reduce anxiety.
- Support the child/young person with preparing them for changes or transitions as these can be sources of distress and worry. Use visual timers, verbal prompts or visual schedules/timetables to support the child in understanding what and when is happening. This can provide with sense of control and increase feeling of safety.
- Support the child/young person to have a balance of activities a part of their day: activities that are necessary and provide a sense of routine/structure, activities that provide them with a sense of meaning and achievement, and activities that are a source of joy and pleasure. This will have a positive impact on their sense of belonging, self-esteem and overall quality of life.
- Managing difficult emotions is a skill that needs to be learned and modelled to the child/young person. The young person will need support learning the skill, practising, strengthening it and generalising it. This is best done when the child/young person is calm, safe and comfortable.
- Try to make relaxation strategies part of daily routine
- For young children or children with intellectual disability Intensive Interaction can provide an opportunity for shared attention, enjoyment and attunement through the use of eye contact, vocalisations, facial expressions and turn taking. For more information see: www.intensiveinteraction.org/find-out-more/how-does-it-work/
- When introducing new or not currently used coping strategies it is best to start when the child/young person is feeling calm and regulated as it can be difficult to use unfamiliar skills when we are distressed.
- We can all become overwhelmed with emotions at times. However, some children/young people do not have the ability to make sense of what is happening/what are they feeling. Some do not have the language to talk about their distress and therefore communicate their feelings through behaviours. When child/young person displays distressed behaviours, consider what feelings (eg anxiety), sensations (eg. pain) and needs (eg need for comfort) they are trying to communicate.
- For children/young people who tend to show, rather than talk about, their feelings, use of play, art (e.g. drawing, painting, photography), crafts or stories can be a good way to help them to express their emotions.
- Sensory and movement breaks can provide time and space for the child/young person to make sense of their feelings
For the carers
Many children/young people struggle greatly managing their feelings (or completely lack emotion regulation skills) and rely on trusted adults to provide this for them (‘co-regulation’). They can also pick up fast on emotions of those around and feel distressed. It is important for the carers to be calm and regulated themselves in order to be able to support the child. Become aware of your own feelings, bodily sensations, memories of the past or urges to act certain way. It is fine to pause a little, catch a breath and make sense of the situation before supporting the child/young person.
Outside the home
Playground equipment can provide various sensory experiences:
- swings, therapy balls, mini trampolines, space hoppers for movement
- sand and water pits for tactile experiences
- play house or tent to provide a safe and calming area.
- Soft play centres at quiet times
Noisy, Busy Environments:
- Whenever possible, consider additional planning for special events such as quick exit routes if the young person becomes stressed? Is there a special toy / routine or object that can be used to calm the young person?
- Is there a quieter time to carry out activities e.g. smaller supermarket or quitter times to go, or shop on-line? Is there a quiet place to go if you need to e.g. restaurant area?
- Consider wearing a backpack when in busy environment
- Consider wearing snug clothing eg lycra undergarments.
- Consider wearing earplugs
- Consider using a music player with headphones, allowing the young person to listen to favourite songs / music. This may help to drown out environmental noises and help the young person stay focussed on an activity.
- Consider using a small toy to fidget with or distract from other sensory input.
The garden can provide positive experience to give a young person calming times, time alone or with friends or time to ‘let off steam’. Some of the following may be helpful to consider:
- Creating sensory areas – small, safe, hidden areas or use of garden sheds with suitable toys can create a calming experience
- Large climbing frames, trampolines, chutes and swings may give the young person the experiences of movement they need
- Night lighting, gazebos, and sheds allow the experiences not to be curtailed by weather or the dark.
- Small water features can be extremely calming or give something to distract when things are difficult for a young person. Likewise, small wind chimes, light reflector toys or spinning toys may be both aesthetic and enjoyable.
For young people with ADHD:
- Support the young person thinking about what symptoms/traits of ADHD look and feel like for them in different environments (eg. home, school, in community). Help them to think about the impact of ADHD symptoms on different areas of their life
- Identify times of the day/week when ADHD has the most impact on young person’s life.
- Think about what internal (eg own thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, memories) and external distractions (eg. noise, busy environment) impact most on the young person.
- Think about which coping skills would be in best in the particular situation (different environments, external and internal triggers). Write these down on little cards that the young person can carry with them and use as needed (eg in school).
- Break tasks down into small, manageable steps.