Sometimes it's really hard. And sometimes it's so simple.
Genea has an issue. She cannot, canNOT occupy herself. No can do, no sir. Throughout the day, every day, she paces back and forth with nothing to do. I know, all kids do this. The difference is that most kids will eventually learn, or follow suggestions, or sit in a corner or something. When Genea does not know what to do, she paces. We have one of those open floor plan homes so her pacing path is a long one. Walking back and forth, back and forth, back again. Forth again. Oh my lands, sometimes I will sit there and count the number of times. Of course her path goes directly in front of me. She tries to make it look like she has something supremely important to do across the room. She paces across to the table and inspects a place mat. Then she paces back across the room and very importantly touches a pillow. Back across again to look out the window. Across again to pick up a crayon, look at it and set it back down. 400 times an hour. Many times I give her some ideas. Go clean your room is always one of the ideas. I think it makes the other suggestions more appealing.
The difference with Genea from most "regular" kids, is that Genea has one option that other kids only use in an emergency. The all- purpose fit. The wango tango. When she cannot figure out what to do with herself and will not take suggestions, she pulls out her favorite trick, the one I like to call The Set Up. She asks for something she knows she cannot have, something she knows she cannot do, something that is not hers. Something she knows damn good and well is going to elicit the answer "no". And then woo hoo, duck and run people because here it comes.
Note though, that the wango tango serves a purpose. Genea starts to feel anxious that she has nothing to do. There is no expectation of her at the time and she gets nervous. With no one telling her what to do or scheduling her time for her she feels unsafe. Events cannot be predicted when she does not have them laid out for her. Firing up with the wango tango gives her a predictable series of actions and reactions to engage in, and that is safe. Remember your RAD Rule #1: There is no such thing as negative or positive attention. There is only attention.
Recently I sat down with her and we made a list. She told me the things she can do when she is looking for something to do, and I wrote them down. I added a few ideas of my own, since I am the Mom and that is my right. Such as clean the cat box. She listed things like do a puzzle, read a magazine, play a game by herself.
Now she carries her list around and refers to it. Somehow having in writing all the things she likes to do gives her the ability to choose one of them.
It has not always been the case that she would respond to something like this. In the past she might have ripped up the paper. Or refused to do anything on it while waving it in my face. Or wango tango'd at the suggestion of looking at it. So while it is definitely a simple idea it is not one that would have worked say, 2 years ago.
If your child cannot read, or cannot read well enough to process a list like this, you can always use pictures. Cut them out from a magazine or catalog, or use the internet to find a picture of "Lego's" for example and print it out. I've used that trick with children with Autism (well, many people have used that trick and I just copied it). You can lay them out, or put them in a jar for the child to pick from. You can put out 3 choices, or 10 or whatever your child can handle. Genea, she likes to see everything at one time. Knowing there might be more than the choices she is given would whip her up. Putting the ideas in a jar and having her select one, dang, that would surely set off an epic fit. You can rest assured whatever she did not pick would be the thing she wanted.
Do what works. Know that it may not work the next time. Be willing to try again.