I will likely say this until I’m blue in the face, but having a routine and structure for your autistic child is important. Any child, on the autism spectrum or not, benefits from having routines and schedules in place. This predictability provides security. Even young children can benefit from having a routine in place.
But how do you start with this? Many are not born with time management skills and many adults often struggle with time management as well. And really, it’s one thing to teach time management, but it’s another thing entirely to put that all into practice.
Here’s how to teach schedules and routines to your autistic child in ways that make sense.
How to get your autistic child on a predictable schedule
Being on a predictable schedule, starts with you.
If you lack structure in your existing day, you’ll need to start incorporating it somehow. This is already an area that children on the autism spectrum struggle with. Time management is made that much more difficult because of executive functioning.
As parents, we need to help our children understand time and learn how to mange time. You want to work them to not only master time, but how to take control over it. And when you help your child practice their skills, with repetition it will become easier.
Just think about it: when we bring our newborn baby home from the hospital; we start getting used to a new routine. From the very beginning, we are creating and adapting routines for ourselves. This starts to become second nature and then we’re really not even thinking about it.
The same goes for our autistic children.
The more you help them get used to a routine and schedule, the more it will become second nature. You need to be careful, of course, with running into rigidity but that’s to be expected.
Involve your child in the creation of the routine and follow the tips below.
How to teach routines to your autistic child
The best way to teach routines and schedules is by practicing them. Don’t over complicate this though. This can be as simple as talking through your routine.
- First you have a bath
- Then you brush your teeth
- Then you have a bedtime story
- Then you go to sleep
You’ve just broken down a simple bedtime routine in as many steps as necessary for your child to understand.
Try using language like:
- First, then
- Before after
- Next, then
While you’re narrating your routine, ask questions. Then your child is also participating and they are soon able to start predicting what will happen next. You want to help them with the sequence part of it so they understand the whole picture.
Don’t be afraid to break even the simplest parts of your routine or schedule into the smallest steps. Children learn by doing and by repetition.
Likewise, if you’re going to introduce something new? Introduce it slowly but naturally.
Over time, your child’s independence will also start to increase within their routine.
Best tools for teaching routines and schedules to autistic children
To start teaching routines and schedules at home, you’ll also want to start using visual resources.
You can find the free resources for creating a daily routine and visual schedule, in my visual schedule toolkit.
And if you want to take it up a step, be sure to check out the daily routine schedule pack.
And you can also include things like timers and dry-erase wall calendars.