Children and individuals with Autism find routine and familiarity comforting, so starting daycare can be a challenge because it disrupts their daily routine with unfamiliar people, sounds, and expectations. If the child is experiencing stress and overwhelm, but is still required to nap at daycare, this can be a big challenge. But, daycare can become a familiar routine for children with Autism as long as they are given a chance to practice their new routine in their new environment.
Have you ever tried to sleep while you were anxious and stressed out? Not easy, is it? This is often what happens for children with Autism when it is time for naptime at daycare. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help your child get comfy and start snoring even when they are at daycare!
Here are three important steps to follow when transitioning your special needs child to a daycare setting:
- Spend time at the daycare facility with your child before their official first day.
- Educate your child’s daycare providers about Autism.
- Follow the daycare routine at home before you begin daycare.
Take at least a few days with your child to get “acclimated.” At first, your child may not even want to go through the door! But don’t despair. Be patient. Spend time with your child at the daycare facility exploring their colorful toys and fun activities together. Do this well before your child’s first official day at daycare.
Give your child some space. When they start to feel comfortable, let them approach other adults for assistance. As they approach daycare workers, this is the perfect chance to educate your child’s caregivers about Autism and your child. Many daycare workers are not educated about Autism. If this is the case for your chosen provider, you’ll need to play the role of “educator” as well as advocate for your child.
As your child gets more comfortable, have your child start following the same daycare daily routine at home, even on weekends. This is especially helpful for naptime. Have your child take a nap each day at the same time they take a nap at daycare. Following the same routine as daycare will help your child feel comfortable when they are at the facility.
If your child has special needs, it may be hard for them to ask for help, especially if they are non-verbal. The best thing to do is to be an advocate for your child so they can be comfortable with their needs met at daycare.
Help Your Child Make The Transition
Comfort is especially important if you want to help your child to relax enough to participate in naptime. Include your naptime routine on the list of instructions you provide to your child’s caregivers.
Yes! Lists are important.
Making a comprehensive list can be daunting, but it can give your child’s caregivers more confidence when it comes to caring for your special needs child. When writing instructions on helping your child to sleep at daycare, be sure to include details of your at-home naptime routine. As you write your list, think about the steps you take to put your child down for a nap. If possible, take these steps into a numbered list for the daycare providers to follow.
For example, if you rock your child first while reading a short story, be sure to include this information for the daycare workers. If your child still has trouble falling asleep, consider using a sensory weighted blanket to reduce anxiety.
Bring your child’s comfort items to the daycare facility. Go to daycare with your child and spend time together. Play and make friends! Participate in the daycare daily routine with your child including naptime. If your child is unable to spend a whole day at the facility at first, ease into it. If the environment is too loud, consider noise-canceling headphones.
As your child becomes more used to the routine, gradually have your child spend more time at the facility. If necessary, use a “visual schedule” to show your child what activities are happening that day. A visual schedule creates a step by step description of your child’s day through pictures and helps establish new routines. As a bonus, it is an easy tool for daycare providers to learn to use!
You can create one or even buy a ready-made visual schedule.
If the child is familiar with the daycare routines and environment, they are less likely to become upset on their first day. Helping your child learn “what comes next” in their day can help with your child’s level of comfort, especially when it comes time for naps.
Be Your Child’s Advocate
Parents of a special needs children many times need to take on the role of not only advocate but also an educator. This dual role can be a challenge initially but will smooth your road ahead when it comes to success at daycare. You’ll have to educate your child’s caregivers on the best way to care for your child.
Help daycare workers to understand how to care for your child. Take time before your child starts daycare to educate the people who will work with your child even if this means asking for an in-depth meeting. Education of your child’s caregivers will help make your child’s day at daycare a successful one.
Introduce your child to their new caregivers early on. Establish solid communication strategies between your child and the daycare provider. If that includes outside tools such as laminated pictures for your child to use to communicate their needs or daycare workers becoming familiar with basic sign language, be sure to do an in-depth meeting.
Communication is everything! If your child does not realize that it is nap time because the daycare workers do not know how to tell her it is time to go lie down on her cot, this will immediately be a roadblock to a successful day. Additionally, having comfort items for your child to cuddle with during nap time will likely help as well. Establish the groundwork ahead of time.
Sign Language can help!
Make Communication Easy
Make sure your child can communicate with their caregivers! For your child to be comfortable, the people who work with your child also need to be comfortable in caring for your child. If the caregivers for your child do not understand your child’s method of communication, that is going to present a large obstacle from day one. Caregivers will need to be taught your child’s cues for basic needs such as drink, eat, sleep, and play especially if your child is non-verbal.
Understanding each other can be a real challenge to both daycare workers and your child if there is no work done beforehand to practice communication. Practicing should be simple, but thorough. Bring your child with you to a meeting with the administration and staff. Have your list of instructions written up and bring several copies to hand out. If the facility has a special plan they can design for your child, make sure to incorporate your information.
With a little preparation, going to daycare can be a fun and anxiety-free experience for you and your child.