Going Places: Improving Participation in Community Activities
Reward community participation. Although the activities you choose may be fun, participation in unpredictable or complicated activities may be challenging for your child. Therefore, reward successful outings to new circumstances with activities or items your child likes (e.g., video game or special snack when he returns home).
Increase expectations over time. Gradually demand more of your child (e.g., to stay longer, participate more fully) and reduce the support you provide. Part of this is flexibility training – learning to respond to unanticipated circumstances and be a little adventurous.
Jack and Elaine in the Community
Jack wanted to have friends and participate in his community, but was rarely successful in social groups – often demanding to leave after only a few minutes. His support providers helped Jack choose a new activity, Geocaching (i.e., treasure hunting using a GPS), that would he would find entertaining. They practiced at home and role played how to initiate conversations and then began supporting him through smaller events. As Jack learned to participate independently, they faded their support. Jack has now been to over 100 meet-ups and has developed friends among the geocachers.
Elaine’s mother wanted to her to participate in grocery shopping, but Elaine commonly had melt-downs in the store. With the help of her behavior analyst, Elaine’s mother figured out that Elaine was getting upset because of the number and variety of desirable items present that she could not have. Therefore, they started learning to shop by going to department stores (i.e., clothes were not as enticing to Elaine). Once she learned to shop, they shifted to convenience stores and then the grocery store. Elaine was rewarded for her participation with small treats available at the register.
Conclusion: Dos & Don’ts
In conclusion, participation in community activities can be successful and contribute significantly to children’s and families’ quality of life with sufficient support. Here are some dos and don’ts to make the outings as positive as possible:
Meme Hieneman, has a Ph.D. in Special Education and is nationally certified as a behavior analyst. She has published a variety of articles, chapters, and books including “Parenting with Positive Behavior Support: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Child’s Difficult Behavior.” In her professional career, Meme has worked with children with severe behavior problems for more than 20 years.