Field trips are an integral part of children’s learning environment as they create opportunities for children to gain first-hand experiences of the real-world. They typically involve visits to museums, zoos, and science centres. To most children, field trips can be fun and interesting. However, to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the disruption in their usual schedule caused by field trips can result in significant distress. They may run away, throw tantrums, or exhibit other challenging behaviours during these trips.
Hence, preparing children with ASD for field trips is essential in lowering their anxiety levels and creating an enjoyable experience for them. Below are some of the strategies that can be used:
1. Prepare children of the field trip well in advance using 4Ws and 1H
Note down the date of the field trip on a calendar and show it to the child. Cross out each day with the child and start a countdown. This helps to constantly remind the child of the trip and mentally prepare them for the event. This also gives them time to express any worries or doubts about the trip beforehand.
Create a written or picture outline of the trip that includes the transportation they will use, sights they will see, activities they will do, and duration of breaks, if any. Be as detailed as possible so that the child knows what to expect during the day itself. The child can also refer to the outline throughout the field trip to facilitate the transition from one activity to another.
Besides that, use social stories to explain to the child the details of the trip. Pictures of the destination and activities involved can be included in the social stories. Also include bus rides, sharing with others, taking turns, and the need to be flexible if there are changes to the plan. This helps the child to anticipate the events of the day and alleviate some of their anxieties.
Take a virtual tour of the destination with the child. Look up photos and videos of the destination and activities involved on the websites with the child. Do make sure that the activities shown to the child are in line with the school’s plan for the field trip!
Make a list of everyone involved in the trip. If adults other than the child’s usual teachers will be involved, such as tour guides or bus driver, explain these people to the child beforehand. If needed, provide pictures, names, and responsibilities. If there is a ‘buddy system’ or students are split in smaller groups, make sure the child is comfortable with their buddy and the child knows the group members and the teachers-in-charge.
Take note of the transportation used to get to the destination. Most field trips use school buses, chartered buses, or trains. If the child has not taken a bus before or a bus ride may be stressful for them, other transportation arrangements can be made (e.g., parent driving the child to the destination). Alternatively, take the child on short bus rides on public or school buses before the field trip to increase their familiarity with bus rides.
2. Communicate rules and expectations to children
Establish rules and expectations and practice them
Convey important rules and expectations for the field trip beforehand. These include staying with an adult, sticking with the group, and listening to instructions. This is necessary to ensure the safety of the child. These rules can be taught and practiced in a safe environment prior to the trip. For example, the child will be rewarded (e.g., with a toy or snack) when they learn to stay with a parent at home and subsequently outside of home (e.g., at a mall or playground). When the child stays with an adult during the trip, reward them to further reinforce this desirable behavior.
Develop and practice coping strategies for changes
Unexpected changes in schedule as well as continual and fast transitions from activity to activity may create high levels of anxiety in children with ASD. Hence, it is crucial for them to develop and practice coping strategies in advance. For instance, the child can experience a series of activities with quick transitions beforehand to familiarise themselves with the transitions. Verbal prompts or the use of a timer can be used to inform the child of the transition. It is important to always communicate to the child what is going to happen next to mentally prepare them.
In addition, children’s sensory sensitivities need to be considered. During field trips, they may experience sensory overload due to temperature differences, loud noises, or large crowds. Teach them how and to whom to express their discomfort and request for breaks.
3. Develop a safety plan
Create a safety plan to address potential meltdowns and behavior problems
Prior to the field trip, safety planes need to be generated to ensure adequate resources, personnel and expertise are available in the event of meltdowns or behavior problems (e.g., tantrums) exhibited by the children. A behavioral therapist or special education teacher should be involved in the trip planning and be present during the trip, if possible. Teachers should familiarise themselves with some of the warning signs. Immediately notify the necessary personnel (e.g., behavioral therapist) or carry out the safety plan when warning signs are observed. This ensures the safety and security of the children, and helps teachers manage challenging behaviors.
Take safety precautions
Children may be required to wear identification bracelets or lanyards with their name tags to ensure their safety. If the child requires medication at certain times of the day, make sure the teachers or school nurse are aware and provide the child with the medication on time.
4. Reward children for their appropriate behaviors during the field trip
Throughout the trip, frequently reward the child for staying with an adult, listening to instructions, participating in an activity, or displaying any other desirable behaviors. This motivates them and strengthen their willingness and ability to participate in future field trips. Make it a positive and rewarding experience for them!
In conclusion, field trips are essential for children to learn outside of classrooms. Preparation strategies should be employed to prepare childr