Preparing for Visitors

  • Situation

    I am going to visit my non-verbal, six year old grandson. I only see him once a year in his “space” but he knows me from Skype. I always try to approach him gently until he acknowledges me. What are some tips on making this process easier for him? I only have one week with him and want to love him to pieces while I’m there.

  • Summary

    Changes to routine or schedules can be difficult for children with special needs.

    There are a number of possible strategies to utilize to decrease anxieties during a new or novel situation and to increase positive experiences. This answer will highlight a few strategies to try including:

    • Create a simple behavior story that may include photos of the child and the visitor. Include choice of toys and activities that can be used with the visitor and allow the child to choose.
    • Use a visual calendar or countdown to indicate when the visitor will arrive.
    • Keep excitement levels low when guests arrive to prevent undue anxiety.
    • As a visitor, if you are playing with the child with special needs, slowly hand items to the child and if he/she engages with you, start using shorter phrases to describe the play, using “your turn”.
    • Use choices and high interest items in a calm and quiet setting to promote positive experiences for the child and the visitor.

    Each behavior intervention employs structure with visual supports.


  • Definition

    A behavior or social story is a simple description of an everyday social situation written from a child’s perspective.  The situation is described and focuses on important social cues and expectations and ways for the child to react in the situation.  The stories are used with a child prior to an event and rehearsed so when the event occurs, the child can use the story as a guide for behavior.

    Shaping means rewarding successive approximations for a desired behavior; in this situation shaping is used to increase interactive play.

    Structured choice option is an intervention that gives a student a sense of control over a situation by providing choices. Structured choice interventions are used to prevent or de-escalate interfering behaviors and to increase appropriate behaviors.  In each of these interventions, use of the child’s special interests and visual supports increases chances for success.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    ability to understand simple stories; ability to express needs and wants (verbally or non-verbally)

  • Process

    1. Create a simple story to prepare for the visit. If possible include photos of the child and visitors, in this case, Grandma.  See the Related Resource Section for an example that can be individualized.  Have the child’s parent read the story to him before the visit.
    1. If the child has utilized calendars or understands numbers, use these items to indicate when the visitor will arrive. A picture can be placed on the calendar and each day can be crossed off until the arrival time.  Or, a Velcro line of numbers with the picture at the end can be created; pulling off each number as the days go by [‘Grandma comes in 10 days].
    1. Upon arrival of the visitor, keep excitement levels low to prevent undue anxiety regarding the unknown.
    1. After some time has elapsed and using high interest items, the visitor may wish to show pictures or verbally ask, holding out the items, what the child would like to play with.  Provide only 2-3 choices and be sure any communicative devices that are utilized are available for the child to access.
    2. Items such as bubbles, cars that go down ramps, puzzles, simple art projects including bingo daubers can promote interactions including turn taking and opportunities to communicate with the visitor.
    1. When setting up such play situations, begin by sitting near the child and start the activity in a parallel play format (engaging near the child but not yet playing with him). Slowly hand objects without high rates of verbalization.  If he begins to engage start saying short phrases describing the play and using ‘your turn’ as part of your communication.
    1. Be sure the materials are organized and provide visual supports such as ‘x’s’ on art papers indicating where to glue or paint.
    1. Remember, using choices and high interest items in a calm and quiet setting can promote positive experiences for everyone involved.
  • Documents and Related Resources

    Taking Turns in Play and Conversation (Related answer on this site)


    Structured Choice (Related answer n this site)


    Don’t Just Act…Interact (Book resource)


    Grandma is Coming! (Behavior / Social Story) (Word document)


    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.

    Author: Andee Morris, M.Ed.