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Be Flexible or Stick to the Schedule..Which one Works Best for You?

We put so many tools in place (e.g. storage bins/containers), time lines to follow, and schedules all in the name of organization. There are so many positives to being organized for a child with disabilities. They know what to expect and have some foresight into what is required or asked of them. There is a sense of understanding and expectation and, therefore, in some ways it may decrease stress. In addition, productivity on the part of the child may be consistent or show improvement. But what happens when things don't go as planned? Are your kids flexible or are we teaching them not to be flexible because of the structure we have put in place? Because life does not go as planned, we all need some flexibility, but it makes me wonder if this is something that can be taught? What do you think?

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Comment by Becky D. Smith on August 31, 2011 at 1:24am
We too use the visual schedule.  I have some students who can follow a daily routine, but others who need to know what is happening.  First___ Then ___ works wonders, as well as the token system where students are working to earn doing something they really want to do.  It takes a little time keeping the schedules moving properly, but is very effective.
Comment by Jill Couri on August 30, 2011 at 12:28am
I am a person who likes to go about my day pretty organically.  But I've had to find a way to cater to my daughter's needs and she thrives much better under a schedule.  We use the "first/then" concept with regards to a visual schedule.  That way we don't have to be rigid (which helps me a lot!) but she knows what's coming next and can mentally prepare herself for that.
Comment by Martianne Stanger on August 29, 2011 at 11:51am
We hoemschool and I find flexibility within structure work for us.  I start with a schedule for my own Type A thinking, but then loosen upw ith it making it more of a rhtyhm for our days that works better for my kids.    I don't consistently use the cards anymore, but I pretyy much still follow something akin to what I wrote at
Comment by Becky D. Smith on August 12, 2011 at 12:08am

I think we bring about stress by not teaching flexibility.  Granted, our students with special needs need to know what is happening throughout the day, but without change to their routines, it is difficult to experience the "real world".  Sometimes, we over-structure and they don't learn to think and cope for themselves.  They see our stress when we aren't flexible.

Comment by Marilyn F. Hays, Ph.D. on August 10, 2011 at 12:12pm
Catherine, what you wrote about tuning into specific stressors and practicing getting through them--giving your child the coping skills he/she may need--is great!! Also getting out in your community can help you learn what unknown stressors your child may have. For teachers, that is why it is so important to schedule field trips. You can find out so much more about your students that way!
Comment by Catherine Milian on August 9, 2011 at 5:51pm

Hey Tobi

I can tell you right now having a 13 year old on the spectrum. Not only does he know his routine but he almost has an OCD with it. Now what right? How did we learn to become flexible? We had to cope with the anxiety of not having the predictable. So throwing a curve ball once in a while is ideal because they need to grow and learn from it. Maybe fire drills everyday is not the best remedy but figuring out what kind of stressful stimulant they can manage that day is great. The parents will know what makes their kid tick. Which can give you good ideas what to introduce. That way we dont worry so much about the behavior but teach them coping skills to deal with the maddness this world will throw at them as they age. As for my son at 13, I have managed to give him options and explain what are good choices vs bad ones.

Comment by Sue Schuelke on August 5, 2011 at 11:23am
As an early childhood special educatin teacher I have a schedule but don't stick exactly to it, if that makes sense.  I've had two students with autism in the same class for the last 2 years.  When they first started, I adhered to the schedule pretty rigidly.  As they've come to understand the picture schedule and classroom routine, I've been able to relax how closely we follow it by removing or adding a picture to the posted schedule.  Life if not ever as scheduled as some people need it so I hope to teach my students from a young age how to handle unexpected things.
Comment by Marilyn F. Hays, Ph.D. on July 28, 2011 at 1:45pm
Structure is really needed for many of our special needs children or adults. Along with that, "change" is a concept that can be taught and really should be. Of course each child's pace is different, so when you introduce it will be different. How I have taught change is if you are using a visual schedule, come up with a "change" card. At first you would role-play changing the activity, and once you see that your child is getting it, you can use it in a "real" situation. On a regular basis, you can remind the child that change can happen. You are teaching a very functional skill!
Comment by Tobi Isaacs on July 27, 2011 at 8:56pm
Love the parking lot idea from "mother of 2 crazy kids". Something I want to put in place for my kids. Thanks for the idea.
Comment by mother of 2 crazy kids on July 27, 2011 at 12:47pm

Can we teach flexibility without losing our trusted schedules for our kids?  I am not sure but I am definitely trying.   Sometimes, we use something called the "Parking Lot" in our home.  This is just a sheet of paper with a picture of a car on it.  We stick it on the wall at the kids' eye level and make sure that a pen or marker is nearby.  Whenever, something happens and a child wants something that requires holding off on it because it isn't time for it or the situation, especially if it is unexpected, does not allow for it, we can jot it down in our Parking Lot.   It is validating for the kids to post their wants on the wall.  This is a promise to revisit the request at another time and sometimes, that is enough for them.


Additionally, I say the same phrase whenever I want them to be flexible with new things and/or situations. "It is good to try new things," I say and I never change the wording.   Because the wording is constant, it is familiar to them which is great because the situation that is requiring their flexibility is unfamiliar and therefore yucky or scary or who knows what.  

I also try to name the times when they are flexible without being asked.  That is always good to do.  I only wish I could remember to do that more often.  That is quite possibly the biggest challenge of all.

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