There are a few things in life that are certain: paying taxes, death and waiting. No matter who you are, part of your life will be spent waiting. Unfortunately, the “waiting” concept is not one that is picked up by osmosis for many children on the spectrum. Hopefully, they will have learned this concept by the time they are teens, but I’m still including it in this column because it is a necessary life skill everyone needs to learn – on and off the spectrum. We all have to wait in line at the grocery store, wait at the doctors office, wait for a turn on our favorite ride at Disneyland, wait at the restaurant for our food. Children also have to learn how to wait at holiday events, when traveling, at home for things they can’t have right away or to go out for a ride in the car. As children grow into teens and become more responsible for their behavior, waiting is definitely a skill they will be expected to use in the community.
Here’s one way of teaching the concept of waiting:
- Make a nice- sized (4×4 or bigger) picture icon that has a figure sitting in a chair, and the face of a clock on it. Put it somewhere convenient and noticeable, such as the refrigerator.
- Glue a piece of velcro on the big icon for putting a smaller icon of requested item on it.
- Have a timer available.
- Have small icons of the child’s favorite items that he likes to request.
- Have those items (food or toys) within his eyesight but out of his reach (but easily within yours).
- When child asks for item out of reach, show him the corresponding icon, place it on the bigger waiting icon, and say “we are waiting” and set timer for whatever his capability for waiting is at this point (10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute).
- As soon as the timer rings, give him immediately the requested item. Tell him “We are finished waiting.”
- Do this many times whenever the opportunity arises and extend the amount of time until the child can wait longer and longer.
Each child is different in how long this will take or for how long he can learn to wait (and this will change as well over time). Eventually when he is asking for a ride in the car and you can’t go right away, you can tell him “Not now, in 10 more minutes your sister will be ready. We are waiting,” and he will get the idea that he may not get what he wants now, but he will get what he wants eventually. This will lessen his frustration, and subsequently, yours.