WHY ARE ROUTINES IMPORTANT FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM?
Routines are helpful for all of us. They help us maintain consistency in our lives and provide us with a sense of comfort and security. We know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and why it’s happening. Recent research even shows that we can all benefit from having a routine and a regular rhythm in our lives (Lieber, 2018). Routine is especially important, however, for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (“Why Routine Is Important to Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder”, 2018). Here are a few reasons why:
For many children with ASD, communication difficulties can make it hard for them to understand what’s happening around them, which can be stressful (“Obsessive behavior, routine and rituals: autism spectrum disorder”, 2020). Thus, having a routine helps them cope with stress and anxiety by creating allowing them to feel more in control of their environment and to create order and structure in their lives. Maintaining a routine allows individuals with ASD to learn what to expect and when to expect it. Routine helps create a safe environment that can otherwise seem unpredictable.
Routine comes naturally for children with ASD. Individuals with autism often thrive off of repetition, so it’s typically not too difficult for them to learn and implement a daily routine that allows them to be more productive and successful.
Routines assist with the learning process. Once a child has implemented a routine that feels good to them, they feel less stressed and are able to more effectively learn new things. They are better able to focus on developing new skills, achieving new accomplishments, and becoming more independent.
Routines are helpful for all of us. They help us maintain consistency in our lives and provide us with a sense of comfort and security.
HOW CAN WE MAINTAIN ROUTINES & STRUCTURE DESPITE THE CURRENT DISRUPTIONS?
During this time of increased uncertainty and chaos, maintaining structure for ourselves and our children is more important than ever. Without school, work, and many regularly scheduled activities, life as we (and our children) know it is “on hold.” So, the famous question is: “How can we maintain routines and structure during a time like this?!” Well, here are a few suggestions that are easy to implement, but will likely make a big, positive difference for you and your child:
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
Even though our kiddos aren’t going to school for the next few months, it’s really important to keep them on a consistent sleep schedule. They should go to sleep and wake up at similar times each night and day. If their internal clock is thrown off by having an inconsistent sleep schedule, things such as irritability, drowsiness, mood swings, difficulty focusing and concentrating, and a decline in cognitive skills can occur (Som, 2018).
Maintain consistent mealtimes.
Your child’s body and brain will function best if they’re kept on a consistent eating schedule (it may even be helpful to mimic the schedule they follow at school to ease the transition once school starts again).
The utilization of visual schedules and timers are often very helpful for children with autism.
Set a schedule that mimics a school day.
Structure your child’s day to include focused time on different subjects and activities, interspersed with breaks and play time. Also remember: each day does not have to be identical. Your child is used to “specials” at school, such as gym, art, music, etc. Incorporate one of those “specials” into each day in order to mix things up a bit and keep your child engaged. Some ideas include: riding a bike outside (gym), playing catch (gym), painting (art), making clay figurines (art), playing freeze dance (music), etc.
Utilize visual and auditory reminders throughout the day.
The utilization of visual schedules and timers are often very helpful for children with autism. Timers help your child know how long an activity will last and when an activity is about to end. You can use a visual timer (pictured below) or the timer on your phone. Additionally, a verbal warning often helps (e.g., “2 more minutes of play time and then we’re taking a bath!”). Some examples of visual schedules are also pictured below. Visual schedules allow your child to see what will be happening that day. Often, for our kiddos, visuals help with comprehension and understanding.
Visual Timer (the red area decreases as time passes)
A Visual Schedule