The Community Outing: Parent Empowerment 101

"Awareness simply means to acknowledge that Autism exists; Acceptance is to acknowledge its value."

The thought of a community outing can bring about significant anxiety for both mom and child. Pulling off such a huge feat must require an entire behavior support team (clinical director, behavior analyst, therapist, interventionist, supervisor and case coordinator) along with several seasoned special education teachers and a few logistical strategists just for good measure, right? Not! Try these simple and effective tips for venturing out in public and leaving your anxiety at home.

What is a community outing?

The community outing is often part of 1:1 ABA home programming (and if it’s not part of your current program, you may want to discuss this with your clinical team). Outings give the behavior interventionist and the clinical team the opportunity to work on behaviors with your child such as generalization of adaptive skills. These are critical skills necessary for helping promote independence. Common places for outings include the library, the supermarket, the mall, the doctor/dentist, bank, and the hair salon.

  1. Know your Child. Moms and Dads are the #1 most important people in their child’s lives, and who knows their kiddo better than Mom and Dad?! If you know that your child struggles with being easily overstimulated or your little one elopes in large crowds or parking lots, discuss these concerns with your behavior team before starting community outings to ensure that your child’s safety is preserved. Suggestions for devising a safety plan include:
    1. Exiting the car
    2. Holding hands in parking lots
    3. Holding hands throughout the store/outing
    4. Use of calming strategies or items
    5. Whether to use a safety harness on outings
    6. Reinforcers
  1. Scope the Place Out Ahead of Time. Do you have an idea for a community outing and want to give it a whirl? Many times, some of the coolest suggestions for outings come from Mom and Dad. I’ve seen it too many times over the years where parents leave the planning to the professionals. This should not be the case! Parents should feel comfortable and valued as part of their child’s program, and if you don’t, then you might want to consider a new team! Discuss your idea for an outing with your team, and scope the place out ahead of time to see if it will be a good match for your child on their outing. Things to consider should include:
    1. How long does it take to get to this place?
    2. How long are you planning on staying there?
    3. Safety concerns
    4. Reinforcer inventories
    5. If this is your first outing, make sure to collect baseline data for future outings
  1. Forewarned is Forearmed. Sometimes even the coolest surprises can be too overwhelming and overstimulating for some kids. Prepare your little one for the upcoming outing by using visuals (iPad, pictures, etc), social stories, or casual conversation. See how your child reacts when shown photos of the upcoming outing or when you mention it to them. This will provide you a lot of valuable information on what to do/take along for the outing. For example, if you’re planning a trip to the supermarket on an outing, try making a simple game of Q&A with your child on what can be bought at a supermarket? Or have them help you create a short, but fun scavenger hunt for an item or two on the list.
  1. Behaviors are Going to Happen. I don’t like being the bearer of bad news, but I’ve seen it thousands of times. Even the most seasoned parents who’ve been on dozens of outings think that behaviors can be avoided. Nope. Sorry. These are kids! And I have yet to meet a kid that goes gaga over the grocery store or squeals in delight over Sam’s Club. Knowing that behaviors are often an unavoidable part of the outing can help you proactively prepare for them and make your trip more enjoyable.
  1. Have an Exit Plan. There will be days where no matter what strategies you pull out of your ABA bag, your child will just be having a bad day. Maybe school was a little rougher than normal, or perhaps the recent heatwave has you and your little one kind of irritable. Sometimes, life gets in the way and even the most devised plan of attack may leave you waving the white flag of defeat. This is OK! Some rough patches are to be expected. Speak with your behavior team to create proactive strategies to help with these rough patches, as well as an exit plan for the inevitable #OutingFail
  1. Celebrate! This is the positive reinforcement part of the outing. Celebrate the huge victories like walking through the store without a tantrum (yes!). And make sure to celebrate even the tiniest victories such as standing in line for 5 seconds without an attempted elopement (yes!). Remember, outings are generalization programs that help with life skills, so even the simplest victories are huge and should be praised and reinforced. Try asking your little one what they want to work for on the outing and give a lot of verbal or visual reminders throughout the outing to help keep your child motivated to earn that reinforcer at the end of the outing!

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