whoops Adele Devine image


Teaching a child with autism to handle a ‘whoops!’

It’s raining and that lovely day at the beach that’s been on the calendar ‘FOREVER’ suddenly isn’t happening.

A change of plan seems logical, but may be difficult for the child to accept. They like to know and expect you to stick to the plan.  Why can’t we go to the beach in the pouring rain? Beach is on the calendar.

We use visuals such as calendars, schedules and ‘now and next’ boards because knowing what’s ahead creates a sense of order and allows the child time to process.
On the flipside changing set plans can create mistrust and anxiety, leading to shut downs or meltdowns.

So what do we do?

We know the potential reaction so we try to avoid the situation, but then change happens…

The day comes when we need to collect a sibling who’s poorly when we were about to watch a DVD or there’s a phone call we must take.


Preparation is everything!

  • Be more aware of your own routines and try to mix them up a bit. Do not sit in the same place every meal time or lay out the clothes in the exact same order.
  • Avoid always going the same route, as this creates the idea that there is only one right way.
  • Read a social story(TM) about when the phone rings or the traffic lights are broken and role play good reactions.
  • If a scheduled activity relies on dry weather then show on the calendar that rain will mean a change of plan. It’s on the calendar so it’s ‘okay’.


A Whoops! 

Holding up a ‘whoops!’ symbol (shown above and downloadable here) alerts the child that change is in the air. It allows them time to process and prepare to control reactions.

Choose a time to test out using the ‘whoops!’ symbol.

“Whoops! We have no vanilla ice cream. We only have chocolate.” Change is easier to cope with when it is good change.

Have another adult or sibling model a good reaction,

“Oh dear! I am sad that there is no vanilla ice cream. I was looking forward to it. Oh well, I will have chocolate instead.” Praise the ‘model’ for their good reaction. The child with autism will be watching and learning.

Next time try a less rewarding ‘whoops!’ Ask a friend to stage that unexpected call or visit. By role playing a change situation we create a stepping stone. Practicing when the situation is not ‘real’ removes the pressure.


Change Toolkit.

  • A whiteboard and dry wipe pen to write or draw the new schedule.
  • A visual timer such as a time tracker or egg timer.
  • A motivating activity (colouring, books, Lego, play dough) or fidget toy.
  • Some sort of food (cereal or raisins) and a drink.
  • A set of social stories(TM) (when the phone rings Mummy needs to speak, when a visitor comes to the house, when we have to go out in the car, when we have to take a different route)
  • An emergency occupier – iPad, or android tablet or game (make sure it’s charged).
  • A visual of a reward for after – (going to the shop or park, baking a cake) and a token board (if used).
  • Symbols for ‘whoops!’ ‘good waiting’, ‘good sitting’, ‘good listening’, ‘good looking’ and ‘good standing in line’.
  • A visual volume control.
  • Bundles of praise, patience and empathy.


Adele Devine is the author of Colour Coding for Learners With Autism available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers

2 Thoughts

  1. anychance you are willing to give away some of your fantasticly written books, we are a rural farming famiy with three children all diagnosed on spectrum, ppdnos, aspergers, and classic autism
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    wed love to have these books to be shared among our 20 rurall families all having chidren with autism, thank you

    1. Hello jenniferjjj – thank you for your enquiry.
      Would you perhaps be interested in signing up to NetGalley? – an online way to discover new books.
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      Thank you again for your enquiry and we hope that you find our titles are able to make a difference to you and your children’s lives.

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