Structure communicates in the home just as it does in the classroom. What does the physical structure in your home communicate to your child with special needs? If, for example, it’s wide open, you are communicating to your child that it’s ok to run around, climb and throw things just like you do outside. Is it visually clear what is supposed to happen in various spaces of your rooms? The Rooms within a Room concept is a way to help your child understand what is expected in specific spaces. Perhaps your child likes to play with Legos in the family room. If that is the case, set up a space the looks like a mini-room defined naturally by other furniture (like the back of a sofa or bookcase) or even a barrier like a child’s easel, a small wall like an office cubicle or barriers products offered by Lakeshore company made from either white board material or colorful cloth). With a visual such as this the child can begin to see that there is a place with boundaries that he/she can play with Legos.
Structure in the home goes beyond the physical placement of furniture. Children thrive on structure and routine. They don’t always pick up on subtle social rules and some are very poor at imitating what siblings are doing. They need a visual schedule of the family routine and a stable location for that schedule. I suggest that these daily/monthly schedules be located in a centralized location in the home so that everyone can see what is happening and that your child with special needs can often be reminded what is happening without a constant reminder from you. Visual supports not only help to reduce repeated directions from adults to “do this” and “don’t do that” but they increase compliance and independence. Visual supports can include things like a picture or white board schedule for the daily routine, visuals for volume control, visuals for anger control and procedure cards or checklists to help your child with common family routines. Getting ready for school, getting homework done and getting ready for bed can run more smoothly with these supports.
Let me leave you here with a rule. If you have to tell your child over and over again to do something or don’t do something, go visual. Too much talking to your child can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. Just remember the rule and help to make your household a more peaceful and happy place.