by Bethany Gayman, RBT
Imagine driving down a road and having no clue where you’re supposed to turn. As you continue driving, the town looks less and less familiar. You start to feel unsettled, confused, unsafe, lost, anxious, and so many more feelings. That is how a child with autism can feel when facing changes in their routines. Consistency allows the child to have a sense of familiarity and comfort. Developing anchor points takes time but enhances the child’s sense of security. Anchor points are the parts of the day when routines are in place. Having predictability in their environment comes from establishing their routine, and repeating it over and over again. The process takes time, but can get easier as it remains the same, and is done many times.
This can look like having them wake up at the same time every day, making their bed when they wake up, having the same cereal available for breakfast every morning, giving them the same chores, going to school the same way every day. There are different ways and times throughout the day to set a schedule for the child to help develop a routine. A simple, but effective strategy can be having a whiteboard with a checklist. This allows the child to “check off” their tasks as they are completed. This can also be a way to incorporate a new task into their routine and help them work through it if it becomes overwhelming or causes anxiety. As the new task continues to be checked off day after day, it will eventually become part of their routine.
Morning and night routines are great ways to set the child up for success before school by creating a predictable, comfortable environment at home before going into a not so predictable school day. Establishing a night time routine ensures the child is completing tasks like homework, chores, and hygienic necessities before going to bed. These routines allow an autistic child to feel a sense of predictability and familiarity to their daily lives. Routines give children a sense of independence, as these are typically tasks they are capable of completing on their own. Giving a child a routine is relieving them of the daily stress they face in their typically unpredictable days.
Further, for some children it may be beneficial to provide them with visual cues regarding their routine and what to expect. Using visual boards can enhance the child’s ability to become familiar with their routine.