The holidays are over. You have eaten way too much, you are exhausted from all the gatherings you attended, and your house is a mess. Your child with autism is likely to be out of sorts and unable to calm him/herself. How do you get your life and your child’s life back in order? How do you re-establish your daily routines? The sooner you get life back to normal, the better.
Review your established routines. Do they work for you and your family? If so reinstate them. If you don’t have established routines, or the routines you use aren’t working well for you and your family, it’s a good time to implement them.
There are several activities that happen daily that can be scheduled and planned. Think about your child’s bedtime routine. It should at the same time each evening, but beyond that, are there other things that are part of going to bed that happen each bedtime? Make a list of those activities and put them in order of occurrence.
You should plan backwards. What is your child’s bedtime? What activities take place as he/she is getting ready for bed? There may be a shower or bath, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, and reading a book that all come before climbing into bed. Calculate the amount of time needed for each of these steps and determine when you need to start the routine.
You can encourage your child’s independence in following the routine by creating a visual schedule for him/her to follow. You can use your own photographs of your child completing each activity, you can cut pictures from a magazine, or you can find pictures on the internet to use. Arrange the pictures in the correct sequential order (top to bottom often works best) and review the schedule with your child. Your child should know what each picture represents and how to complete the activity.
Practice one routine using the visual schedule for a week or more before adding other schedules to your child’s life. Once he/she is able to complete the activities that are on the visual schedule with an appropriate amount of independence, you can add other visual schedules to support additional routines. Consider creating a visual schedule for school day mornings, dinner time, homework completion, or any other daily activity.
Keep your visual schedules as simple as possible. Limit your pictures to no more than five for children who are in elementary school. Older children can handle a longer visual schedule for more complex tasks.
This is an example of a visual support that is helpful for children with autism, but when we think about it, we all rely on visual supports. Consider the teacher who posts a calendar on the wall of the classroom, the business person who depends on the iphone in their hand to keep track of events, or the baker following a new recipe. These are all types of visual support that we use every day. Think of how your child can be provided the same type of support in an age appropriate way.
These supports can help make your child more independent and better able to anticipate what comes next in their lives. You and your child will both feel calmer as you start and finish each day.
By Mika L. Adams, Autism Consultant