Step One – 3 Months Out

Shortly after I received it in the mail, I reviewed the local parks and recreation brochure for things the Navigator might be interested in doing. I dog-eared a few pages, and then sat down with him.

“I found some things that you might like to do,” I said, opening the brochure. “A while back you said you were interested in volleyball – here’s a class you can take during winter break.”

“Nah,” he answered. “I am not interested in that any more.” I then offered him a 5k walk, to which he shook his head.

He was interested in an archery class, so I signed him up.

It is important to

  • Offer him multiple ideas to consider
  • Tie the ideas into interests he has previously expressed
  • Make it clear that it is his choice
  • Make it clear that he can choose nothing if he wants

Step Two – One Month Out

I reminded him of the archery class a month or so out from the date of the class. He began to feel nervous about doing this new thing, and about the other kids who would be there.

“I won’t know anyone there,” he said. I reminded him that this was for kids on break from school so there might be someone there he knew.

“If you could choose, who would you like to have there?” I asked, and offered the names of friends I knew he was comfortable with. He selected one and I let that friend’s mom know about the class.

It is important to

  • Talk about the event in advance so that he has a chance to process and verbalize his feelings about it
  • Take his feelings seriously and offer him solutions
  • Act on those solutions, even if they don’t work out, and keep him in the loop so that he knows he can trust me to help him as much as I can. This develops ongoing trust for trying new things in the future

Step Three – 1 Week Out

I let him know that the time of the archery class was coming up and we went over the brochure description again. He began to get nervous about not knowing what to do when he got to the class.

“The other kids who will be there won’t know what they are doing, either,” I explained. “You will all be beginners and all be learning the same thing at the same time. Just like when you first learned viola, or like Harry Potter when he went to Hogwarts the first time!”

It is important to

  • Make sure the event gets back on his radar, not too soon and not too late – being reminded the day before or day of can come as a shock and trigger his anxiety
  • Give him time to process and talk about his feelings again
  • Give him examples of times when he successfully faced his own feelings like this before
  • Give him related examples from things that interest him as another perspective

Step Four- The Night Before

This was when we went into more detail about what time the class began and ended, where it was located, how we would travel there, etc. I reminded him by giving him an example of how his day might go.

“Remember, after you do your chore in the morning, you might have to interrupt your screen time for the archery class, depending on what time you get on the computer.”

“What times does it begin?” he asked and as I told him I could see him processing that into his day. “When does it end?” he asked, his voice more urgent because what he meant was When can I go home if I don’t like it?

It is important to

  • Give him a chance to incorporate the new event into his vision of his schedule by offering an example of how it might go
  • Give him landmarks that he remembers so that he can place where we are going, and warn him if I plan to make any other stops so that the whole trip is not different from what he envisioned
  • Let him know if there is an option to end the event early, so that he knows going in

Step Five – Getting Out the Door

I reminded him about the class when he got up in the morning, suggesting what clothing might be most comfortable to wear to the class.

Then I let him know how much time was left before we have to leave, padding the schedule to give him time to push through the PDA.

It is important to

  • Remind him again in an oblique way, like suggesting clothes to wear, which is a less scary way to be reminded if it
  • Make time so that he can get emotionally ready to leave
  • Be patient while he pushes through his anxieties but stay with him to keep the forward momentum

Step Six – When We Arrive

“You are going to stay here, right?” he asked me as we walked in. I assured him I would be right there the whole time, and he was relieved when he saw the row of chairs for observers.

“Do you want me to tell the instructor that you are autistic?” I asked as I helped him with his coat.

“Yes,” he answered.

I introduced myself to the instructor and let him know that the Navigator might not initially look him in the eye, or respond verbally, and that he might take some time to warm up, but that he will be paying attention and following instructions.

Then I watched as the class progressed, making note of the way it may have used up the Navigator’s spoons (noises, activities, social interaction, intellectual focus, physical focus, etc.) so that I could tailor the rest of the afternoon as needed.

It is important to

  • Ask him if he wants to be known as autistic and abide by his wishes, yes or no
  • Stay if he needs me to so that it is one less thing that could trigger anxiety
  • Be aware of how the event might be using up his resources and plan accordingly

Step Seven – Following-Up

We talked about what he liked and didn’t like about the class – that he got to use his muscles in a new way and it made them sore; but that he had a good eye and hit the target a majority of the time.

“Did you like it better than baseball?” I asked. He said he was not sure. “How about swimming?” “I definitely like swimming better,” he answered.

It is important to

  • Help him see the new experience in comparison with other experiences which gives him context for the future
  • Congratulate him that he he was successful in trying something new

Every time he tries something new, whether he likes it or not, it is something we can build on:

You did this, you were able to go do it, which means you can do something else in the future if you want.