The Ekka Show has officially landed in Brisbane. The Ekka is a time for dagwood dogs, strawberry sundaes, show bags and cuddles with cute baby animals. Unfortunately, the Ekka also means crowds, waiting in long lines, loud noises, flashing lights and a range of different smells. For children with autism, the abundance of new and different sensory experiences can be overwhelming. However, there are many things you can do to support your child to cope with the sensory challenges, and enjoy their show holiday with your family.
Check out the list below to learn my 5 quick tips for supporting your child with ASD at the Ekka Show.
1. Prepare your child with a social story.
Prepare your child with information about what will happen at the Ekka. This preparation supports your child to know what to expect on the day, and can help in reducing their anxiety about unexpected and new events that could occur.
Try to be as specific as you can about what will happen on the day. For example, at the show we will buy an Angry Birds show bag. We might have to wait a long time in a line for the show bag. You can watch Pokemon on Mum’s phone while we wait in line.
I like using the Pictello app to make customised stories. However you could also use PowerPoint on your computer, or even draw your own Social Story.
2. Use a visual schedule.
Visual schedules provide your child with more predictability in a new environment. A visual schedule can support your child’s understanding of what to expect at the Ekka. It may be helpful to gain your child’s input when creating the schedule. For example, you could show catching the train, lining up at the entrance, and your child could choose what activity comes next on the schedule, going on the rides or visiting the farm animals.
There are lots of different apps available to support you to make your own customised schedule. However, your schedule could be as simple as stick figure drawings on a piece of paper. As long as you child can understand the schedule, it will assist in alleviating anxiety and support your child to feel calmer at the show.
3. Use a timer.
Unfortunately, waiting in lines is an accepted part of the experience at the Ekka. Waiting in line is tricky for all children, but for children with autism waiting in line can result in a meltdown. Using a timer to show your child how long they need to wait shows your child they will not need to wait forever. Supporting your child to understand how long they need to wait can reduce their feelings of frustration and anxiety whilst lining up. There are lots of timer apps available, but the timer you use on your phone may work just as well for your child. Practising using the timer prior to the Ekka will support your child to learn the concept of waiting in a calmer environment.
4. Take a calm pack for your child.
Each child will have their own activities and resources they find calming. Taking a pack filled with resources that you know supports your child to feel calm will come in handy. Look out for signs that your child is becoming heightened or upset, and encourage them to take a break well before they reach meltdown point.
You know your child best, so you will have the greatest idea of what items to include in their calm pack. An example of a calm pack may include noise cancelling head phones, iPhone with playlists of favourite music and headphones, sunglasses, fidgets, iPhone with favourite videos and head phones, a favourite book, water bottle, and snacks.
5. Keep Kids Safe Program
You can collect a free wrist band from the Ekka Police Station marquee on Gregory Terrace. The Police will write down your contact details on your child’s wrist band. If you and your child were to become separated, the wrist band will support you to be reunited with your child as quickly as possible.
The Ekka Police provide the following tips for keeping your child safe at the Brisbane Show.
Take a photo of your child on the day so this can be shared with police if necessary.
Show your child where the Ekka police station is and teach them how to identify a police officer.
Organise for your child to meet you at the Ekka police station if they become lost.
Remember all located lost children will be looked after at the Ekka Police Station until reunited with their family.
Remember, you are not alone in feeling anxious about taking your child with autism to the Brisbane Show. There are many parents who feel the same fears about how their child will cope in a new environment. Being brave enough to face these fears and go out to new places supports your child to learn the skills to cope in a range of environments. I hope you find these tips helpful, and they support your child with autism to enjoy their day at the Ekka with your family.