The role of routine is important for many autism caregivers to understand. Creating patterns can help give your child predictability in an unpredictable world.
In this blog, we will discuss:
- Do autistic children like routine?
- What is the importance of routine and consistency in autism?
- How can I help my autistic child with routine?
Do Autistic Children Like Routine?
Stable environments and repetitive patterns of behaviors help lots of children thrive. So yes, many autistic children like routine! For some, this can make each day feel less overwhelming to navigate. Change is typically what makes life uncomfortable, and this is often especially true for autistic and other neurodivergent individuals.
While change can present itself as a large life circumstance, such as a new school or big move, everyday common triggering changes may include:
- Having visitors
- Canceling events
- Wearing new clothes
- Not being able to finish a pre-planned activity
- Leaving the house
- Doing things “out of order” or a shift in routine- such as a different waking or eating time
- Going to a new place
While neurotypical individuals may expect this as a part of everyday life, these types of changes can be hard for an autistic person to feel secure in. A structured routine will bring stability to both behavioral and emotional management.
What Is The Importance of Routine and Consistency In Autism?
All Children feel safe when they can follow an established routine, but this is especially important for autistic children. With predictability, there is a perceived consistency in structure. Opposing that, a lack of routine can cause anxiety or frustration–which often leads to problem behaviors. This is why it’s important to create a schedule that your child can easily stick to. While activities such as appointments or meals can stray from predicted timelines, try to stick to a routine to the best of your ability. You will see results with improved cooperation and emotional health!
How Can I Help My Autistic Child With Routine?
Helping a child stick to a schedule can greatly benefit their overall development. To help your autistic child with routine, you can keep transitions predictable, use positive reinforcement and visuals, and above all else, be patient and understanding!
You can also help your child prepare for change! As a parent, you are knowledgeable of most upcoming changes or transitions.
Below are some helpful tips:
- Introduce small changes. By introducing small shifts in routine or expectation, your child can become comfortable with the idea of light change. For instance, you can have your child get dressed for the day after breakfast- opposed to their normal routine of dressing before breakfast. Working your way up from small switches can build tolerance.
- Tell a social story. Social stories are a way to narrate specific situations or problems- and how you can overcome them. For example, you could tell a story about going to the mall. You can explain that you’ll go to “x, y, z” stores, look for x items, will stop for lunch, and leave at around 2 pm. End your new situation with a positive activity, like going home to watch your child’s favorite movie!
- Extra time. Give your child extra time to process new changes, and help them get ready for it. By not suddenly launching a new change, your child will feel more comfortable adapting.
- Use a visual schedule. Try as you might, it can be hard to start or end activities right on the dot. Because of this, some autistic children get upset when the schedule isn’t going exactly as planned. A visual schedule can depict a general routine, such as a birthday cake (symbolizing a birthday party) following a sandwich (lunchtime), so they know what they’re anticipating in their day-to-day schedule through pictures. If your child begins to feel overwhelmed, refer to the schedule, as pictures are a great use of visual support.