It is no secret that most children with autism function better with routine. Routines are predictable and thus easy to learn and to follow. Almost always, there comes a time when a routine gets broken either deliberately or accidentally due to unforeseen circumstances. How your child responds to a change in routine will reveal a lot about your child’s ability to adapt to dynamic environments such as preschool or at the shops.
Most parents will be able to report that their child with autism learns well with routine but also may have tantrums or become “lost” when changes are made to routines. This highlights the paradoxical nature of routines. They are useful in the short term but ultimately lead to problems later down the track as your child is exposed to increasingly unpredictable environments.
To effectively use routines, it is useful to view them as a scaffold for learning rather than a tool of convenience. To do this, keep the macro sequence the same (e.g. getting dressed before going out) while constantly evolving the micro sequences (socks on before pants on day one but pants on before socks on day two). The advantages of this are two-fold:
- It allows you to take advantage of the predictability that routines offer while also minimising the inflexibility that tends to develop as a result.
- It teaches your child how to cope with change
If you find that your child is struggling with a particular aspect of the routine, consider keeping that part of the routine constant by repeating it until they are more comfortable with it. Likewise, continually make changes to parts of the routine that your child is comfortable with. This ensures that your child is always learning something new and develops the capacity to navigate through ever-changing environments. You may find some ideas for teaching in the Daily Routines section of this website.