My last post I touched on using a visual countdown to show the kiddos how many days they have to wait to see their firefighter. My husband and I are blessed to be raising a child with Autism. I say that we are blessed because it has opened up our world to new ways of communicating and teaching. We have had to adjust the way that we speak, move, and grow.
One of the valuable lessons I have learned parenting a child with Autism, is that humans use all of their senses when they learn. Some people have more dominate senses, but in general, we use auditory and visual stimuli to learn. Having learned this early on, we created a countdown calendar at home for daddy's duty days. Whether it be a regular shift, or a campaign fire, the boys can see how many days it will be until daddy walks through the door.
There is an awesome artist in our hometown that makes beautiful signs from old barn wood and other scrap pieces. I had been looking for the perfect calendar, when I saw that she was making custom chalkboards. I immediately sent her an email and asked her to create something for me. She chose an old cupboard door that was a dark wood. It was perfect for our uses. Our boys counted down the days by counting good nights and wake ups. So if my husband is going to be gone for 4 nights, then it is counted as 4 good nights and a wake up. I wanted a chalkboard that we could write the number on and the rest of the phrase was painted on. I added a little yellow helmet at the end of the phrase to signify his position in the fire service. It was astounding how quickly this countdown started to work. No longer did the boys ask me insistently when daddy would be home. The day that we put the countdown on the wall all the stress of communicating the long days was over. If I am being honest with myself, I need the countdown just as much as they do!
Here are my rules for the countdown:
- The number has to decrease and can not increase. When we know that my spouse does not have scheduled vacation during the summer, the number is always the number of days until his next scheduled vacation. Sometimes that can 30 or more days. It is always better to surprise the kids with less days than to disappoint them with more.
- There is no drawing on the board. The only thing allowed is numbers. We change the number in the morning. The boys like to take turns doing it. This chalk board is strictly for visual reminders of how long they have to wait. Sometimes, it is even for me.
- It's only for DUTY DAYS. This means that we don't use this board for anything but daddy's duty days. This board is specifically for the boys to countdown the days until daddy comes home.
Before we had this countdown in place, the boys were anxious, asked a lot of questions, and were very emotional about daddy leaving for work. Now, with the help of this countdown, they rarely ask when dad is coming home, have less anxiety, and seem pretty well adjusted to dad taking off for work. If you don't have a countdown already, do yourself a HUGE favor and get one started! I have some other tricks up my sleeve that I will share soon! Stay tuned!