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Creating a Routine for Your Child with Autism

Do you use a planner to keep track of appointments and events? What about a calendar app on your phone? Or do you have a notebook with a to-do list? These types of visuals and schedules can help prepare for activities and events for you and your child, too! Whether creating a basic daily schedule or planning for major life changes, it’s important to have a routine or schedule to stay on track.

There are many benefits to having a regimented routine, especially for children with autism. This type of structure helps with navigating activities and events to reduce stress and anxiety, along with helping to reduce challenging behaviors and facilitate more efficient learning. Routines and schedules also provide opportunities for problem-solving, better social understanding, self-regulation, and awareness, which can lead to better sleep and overall health for your child.

When starting to think about preparing a routine or schedule for your child, the easiest place to start is by writing the steps needed to be successful. For example, your child might need help with their nighttime routine before going to bed. Begin by writing all of the steps that need to be completed before going to sleep in the evening. Once you’ve written these steps, put them in the proper chronological order, then help explain this new routine or schedule to your child in the best way for them to understand and retain the knowledge.

Every child is different and learns in their own way, and you know your child best! Try and think of the easiest way to help explain any new routines or schedules that will set your child up for success. When teaching your child, be concise, use positive words, and always be accurate to avoid confusion. Sami, our Sr. Director of ABA Delivery here at BY YOUR SIDE, suggests utilizing social stories to help visually represent and explain new routines to your child through images and text. These types of visual aids can be made with a pen and paper and may include images that represent the activity needed for each step. As your child completes the tasks, they can draw a checkmark next to each step, or tape a token, marking it as done. Sami also recommends the mobile application, Choiceworks, which can be downloaded to a phone or iPad to help build visual schedules digitally for your child. To help prepare for any possible changes in routine, make sure to leave blanks or question marks within the visual schedule to represent something unknown or different that may occur daily.

Preparing for change is essential, but sometimes it can’t be avoided and may be surprising to your child, resulting in challenging behaviors. When faced with an abrupt change, Sami recommends having coping strategies ready for your child to help calm them and adapt. Possible coping strategies include breathing exercises or activities that they prefer like coloring. Also, always remember to reward or praise your child for successfully coping with an unexpected change or event! This is called reinforcement, which is something that you should do to increase the likelihood that a behavior will happen again in the future.

Once you’ve finally developed the schedule or routine, created the social story visual, and figured out the best coping strategies for your child to better handle any sudden changes, it’s time to observe your child during their routine. While observing, try to determine any possible problem behaviors and evaluate if there would be any benefits to changing parts of the routine or schedule to help alleviate those issues. Watch for any anxious feelings, signs of stress, or confusion, then help your child figure out other options for completing the task.

In addition to nighttime routines, here are a few examples of when social stories may come in handy:

  • Getting ready for school
  • Packing a bag for vacation
  • Going to the grocery store
  • Visiting a friend or relative’s house
  • Going to a concert or event

While this process may seem complex, it’s important to make it fun! A routine and schedule are meant to be helpful and promote independence for your child, which is a great step to take together as a family. Try to involve others within your household to help with these phases of change and implement any helpful visual aids. Once your child has become successful with this type of structure, they can strive to be more successful in other areas of their lives as well.


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