Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects an individual’s communication, social interaction, and behavior. Children with autism often struggle with adapting to changes and unpredictability in their environment, which can cause stress, anxiety, and other developmental concerns. When looking at the grand scope of what allows children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to strive in their environment, one notion to remember is the importance of routines for autism.
ABA Centers of Florida prioritizes routine in our ABA therapy services for children and teens on the spectrum. We understand how important and beneficial adhering to an established schedule can be for those with ASD, so we work to incorporate these tactics into daily life at our clinics and in-home care. Below are some pertinent facts you should know regarding routines for autism and how you can incorporate these changes into your home life.
Analyzing the Importance of Routines for Autism
The first and arguably most important aspect to consider when exploring the importance of routines for autism is the nature of autism-related challenges and how they impact various individuals. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), one of the primary diagnostic criteria for ASD is if an individual shows repetitive or restricted patterns of behavior, interests, or hobbies. Whether it’s activities, meals, toys, or bedtime care, children with autism often prefer repetition and sameness.
This desire for sameness breaks down even further when analyzing the impulsive and obsessive nature of autism. Some children with ASD may go as far as to organize their toys in a specific order, move their food on their plates in calculated placements, or prefer an exact tone of voice when hearing a story read aloud. If someone were to alter any of these things, it could set off anxiety- and stress-related emotional distress that could lead to a meltdown.
The Benefits of Daily Routine for Autism
Plenty of research shows that incorporating a disciplined daily routine into the lives of those with autism carries various benefits for those on the spectrum. Since predictability and consistency are key for avoiding meltdowns and other emotional distress, a routine helps children with autism function independently while improving their overall social-emotional health.
Some primary benefits of routines for children with autism include:
1. Improving cooperation – When children with autism experience a standard routine free from drastic changes, it improves their cooperation and ability to communicate with parents, caregivers, and other key people. They respond better to commands and have an easier time adjusting when called to do so.
2. Creating a sense of ownership over the day – Consider the success of each day as a stepping stone for a child with autism. They’re progressing toward a sustainable and fulfilling life if they can make it through a daily routine without setbacks. Each day they successfully do these things, they feel more ownership and a sense of accomplishment.
3. Providing a secure and comforting environment – As stated above, sameness and repetition provide comfort for those with ASD; this amplifies tenfold when considering their environment. If the area where they learn, play, and grow remains the same, it allows them to adapt more comfortably to their surroundings while minimizing sensory-related concerns.
4. Reducing power struggles – An unstructured environment jeopardizes a child’s ability to leave or finish undesirable activities to make room for necessary things such as chores, exercise, hygiene, etc. By creating a regimen, children can keep their minds focused on important priorities they need to grow and learn valuable skills.
5. Building stronger child-caregiver connections – Similar to power struggles, a routine can strengthen the relationship between a child with autism and their caregiver. Children are less likely to lash out or hold contempt toward their caregivers when provided with plans, choices, and a positive attitude when going about their day.
6. Bringing order to change – A child may feel comfortable with a daily routine, but it doesn’t mean they can avoid change entirely. With a structured routine, they can more easily adapt to these small changes and feel less blindsided when what they’re used to shifts to any extent. Certain changes in a child’s life that become easier with a routine include trying new foods, leaving their house, visiting a new place such as a store or a doctor, addressing visitors, and dealing with canceled activities, whether it’s because of an illness, time-constraint, or the weather.
7. Teaching children new skills – In a structured routine, children are in a more receptive state that helps strengthen existing skills while more easily facilitating new ones. When a child is free from anxiety and stress, they can capitalize on new experiences and learn all sorts of key insights that these experiences may present.
How to Create and Maintain a Routine for Your Child
Implementing a daily routine for your child can be simple and manageable with the right approach. What’s important to keep in mind is that the main goal of any routine is to provide the necessary tools and skills a child with autism needs to grow and develop. Consider these skills when creating a structured routine for your whole family:
- Utilize positive reinforcement to reward the completion of tasks throughout the day.
- Create a visual schedule that’s easy to read and follow while reinforcing the importance of each task – this can be a calendar, a poster, or any other visual aid to make understanding each objective easier.
- Walk your child through each step and go into detail about what they can expect at every point during the day. Explain thoroughly and leave no room for misinterpretation – this only needs to happen a few times before your child can follow these tasks without assistance going forward.
- Once they’ve grown accustomed to their routine, feel free to add new tasks that can benefit other areas of growth and development. Don’t overwhelm your child at first –ease them into these things and add/remove as you see fit.
- Consider using timers, whether on a phone or a physical timer, for tasks such as showering, brushing their teeth, and going to bed. This way, your child can get used to how long something takes and if they exceed the time required for various objectives.
- Set controls on electronic devices to limit screen time when your child has free time or a rewarded activity.
- Make it fun! Your child is much more likely to benefit when they enjoy their day. Jazz up those calendars/posters and consider bringing music or other entertaining ideas into this routine.
Tips for Breaking or Altering a Routine
No matter how well your child may respond to a routine, there’s always a chance that an unexpected or expected occurrence can alter the norm. These occurrences can include a family death, an illness, work changes, or other unfortunate circumstances that throw things out of sync. Meanwhile, some major and expected changes in the daily life of a child with autism can include a newborn, relocating to a new home, etc. While your child may know of these changes, it can still be difficult to prepare them for when they occur.
The best route to take when preparing a child for change is to tell them honestly and thoroughly what they can expect to change. Blindsides are never fun for anybody, especially children with ASD. Be sure to ease them into these changes; for example, if you expect your child to gain a new sibling, discuss the pregnancy early on, familiarize them with babies and infants, and always remember that their comfort is key.
Help Your Child Grow with ABA Therapy
At ABA Centers of America, the importance of routines for autism is something we keep in mind daily. Our clinics allow your child to grow, develop, and learn valuable skills while maintaining a normal schedule that suits their needs. If you wish to continue your daily home routine elsewhere in your child’s life, ABA therapy is a fantastic option to lead them toward a healthy and sustainable future.
For more information regarding our services, contact us at (772) 773-1975 or visit our website.