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Helping Your Child Adapt to Change Before Change Happens

Article contributed by Heidi Kraft, M.A. CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist at The Vanguard School


Change is an important part of life and happens frequently throughout the day. Adapting to change can be challenging for all of us, and especially difficult for students with special needs.


With change comes feelings of uncertainty, loss of control, and fear of the unknown. If a particular change is unwanted, students may experience anger, frustration, or sadness. Vanguard staff do their best to limit extreme changes at school. However, some changes cannot be anticipated and we must support our students the best we can. 


Here are a few ways that Vanguard staff help our students adapt to change. You can try these techniques at home!


Talk about upcoming changes as far in advance as possible.


Students benefit from knowing the answers to the “The 5 five Ws” before change happens.


When are we going? Where are we going? Who will be there? What will we do once we get there? Why is this happening?


Talking through these questions ahead of time can help students feel more comfortable when the change arrives. 


Use pictures and visuals.


Using visual aids such as pictures or visual schedules and calendars can aid a child’s understanding and help them acclimate to the change.


Examples: Show your child pictures of new places you are traveling to.


Look at the menu of a new restaurant before you go.


Use a visual schedule to show them changes in routine, even seemingly small changes.


Acknowledge your child’s feelings and help them find the words to express them.


Example: “It looks like you are feeling frustrated. Is that right?”


“It’s okay to feel sad right now. I feel sad that our plans have changed, too.”


Provide coping strategies and allow both you and your child sufficient time to walk through the change together.


Allowing your child extra time may give them the processing time needed to appropriately handle the change.


Example: Offer a break, take a walk, play with a favorite toy, color, or practice slow breathing.


Give your child feedback on the change that occurred and how it was handled.


A similar change may occur again. Debriefing the situation with your child may help them adapt to other future changes.


Examples: “You did great at _______!”  “Next time we can try _____ instead of ______.”