Routines can be the backbone of day-to-day life for anyone. This is particularly true for children with autism. Creating a consistent daily schedule is essential for children with ASD to thrive and cope in any environment. Routines, especially when pairing with ABA strategies, help reduce tantrums and stress, while fostering a sense of order in your child’s life.
Research Support for Daily Routines
Research supports the importance of consistency in daily routines for children of all developmental levels and learning abilities. Strengths in their social-emotional health show a 47% increase over time when they experience structure and consistency in their daily routines. Daily routines also support:
- A reduction in power struggles
- Improvements in cooperation
- A stronger parent-child connection
- Ownership of their activities and skills
Routines can help your child adapt and transition to even the slightest change. What may seem natural to a typically-developing child may present an array of challenges for a child with autism. These may include:
- Visiting a new place, whether a park, store, or doctor
- Transitioning between activities or tasks
- Tasks out of order, including a different mealtime
- Trying new foods
- Visitors, whether planned or not
- Leaving your house
- Canceling an activity, even if due to illness or weather
Don’t forget to praise or reward your child for being flexible with changes. Implementing ABA strategies you and your child learn will go a long when introducing additional changes to your daily routine.
The Importance of Routines and Daily Schedules for Children with Autism
Children with autism often have difficulty making sense of everyday life, including movements, sounds, and actions. The world, through their eyes, can be confusing and chaotic. Routines help them establish order in their lives as they learn what to expect and when they can expect it. For them, a predictable and reliable routine creates a safe space where they can feel more secure. Repetition tends to come naturally to them, so learning best through family routines should come as no surprise. They offer the benefit of lowering your child’s stress, providing an environment that allows them to learn and form new skills, habits, and behaviors more quickly. It’s a powerful tool and useful in continuing to incorporate ABA strategies every day.
Children with autism tend to thrive in environments that foster structure, predictability, and patterns. While all children experience diverse challenges and situations, consistent routines can help alleviate these challenges and support their goals. Through predictable routines, children learn to cope with anxiety-inducing situations. When an unfamiliar situation presents itself-creating changes in their daily norm-they are better able to adjust and feel more secure.
Your child will come to depend on knowing what to expect next at any given time of day, in each natural environment. Their patterns help decrease challenging behaviors, should unfamiliar events arise. Implementing routines provides your child with a comfortable and secure surrounding to return to after adjusting to a new situation.
The use of daily routines also helps your child understand that completing any task, including those they resist, will offer the reward of moving on to the next task. By combing the use of visual schedules, positive reinforcements, and ABA strategies, your child will continue to strengthen skills while adhering to their comfort zone of daily routines.
Creating a Successful Routine
Creating routines for your child does not need to be an overwhelming task. Providing such a structure for your entire family is beneficial. Follow these handy tips to help you get off on the right foot.
Create a Basic Routine
Begin with a simple list or outline. Identify each task your child must complete each day, and those you would like your child to complete. This list should include waking up, meals, self-care, school, play, and therapies. Think about how long each task will take, organize them by the time of day, and importance. Be sure to account for your family’s needs as well. This will give you an overall guideline when developing your final daily schedule.
Now think about how you can turn this daily routine into an engaging visual for your child. What does your child respond to? Perhaps it may be drawings, cut-outs of images, or photos of them working on tasks.
Now, combine your efforts and create your first daily routine chart. You can utilize a large family calendar or hang a chart on your fridge. The more your child sees and interacts with this visual cue, the more success you will have.
Stick to Your Routines
Life gets hectic. We know this. But we also know how crucial it is for your child to stick to a consistent daily routine to thrive. With today’s technology, there are also plenty of helpful tools to help you accomplish this:
- Set a timer on your phone
- Create calendar reminders for therapy sessions and doctor appointments
- Keep mini timers in necessary areas, including the bathroom for monitoring brushing teeth and washing hands
- Set controls on devices to limit screen time during free-play or reward activities
And make this a fun task! Choose different tones, songs, or animal noises for each alert. Perhaps your child’s favorite song signals it’s time for free-play, or a specific bell tone alerts them for meals. Over time, your child may even start transitioning tasks on their own after hearing each auditory cue.
Use Positive Reinforcements
Implementing ABA strategies will help your daily routines tremendously. Positive reinforcements will provide priceless motivation as you begin to introduce your household’s daily routines. It can be as simple as rewarding your child’s behaviors or completions of tasks with a sticker chart. You can also use this opportunity to practice goals and ABA strategies your child is working on during therapy sessions.
Communicate and Maintain Consistency
Communication is key to establishing routines, especially in the beginning. Be sure to refer to your visual schedule often throughout the day. These visual cues will help strengthen the importance of each task and the time you designate for them. Talk with your child about each task before, during, and after. Maintaining these patterns will soon become second nature, thanks to your consistent use of ABA strategies.
Use your ABA strategy toolbox often. Guide your child with prompting, modeling, and plenty of repetition. Praise them for completing tasks, attempts without tantrums, and for moving on to the next task on the schedule when it’s time.
As you continue to maintain consistency, your daily routine will become easier to maintain. As your child adapts, gradually add new tasks to the visual calendar with their help. These new changes can help your child strengthen flexibility and coping skills in the process. Be sure to practice ABA strategies to enforce new additions to the day.
Make Fun Routines with Visual Schedules
Visual schedules help reinforce your child’s routines by making them inviting, fun, interactive, and relatable. Think of the various ABA strategies you and your child use to incorporate play therapy when strengthening behaviors and learning new skills. Implementing daily routines should follow the same approach to enhance long-lasting behaviors.
Visual schedules are particularly useful for children who cannot read or are visual learners. We know through the use of ABA strategies that using visual cues can increase the success of learning new tasks, so why stop there? Creating a fun, visual schedule together can be just as helpful in establishing your daily routines.
There are several ways your family can adopt visuals to implement daily routines:
- Poster boards for the wall
- Colorful, interactive digital planners on an iPad
- Scheduling apps on devices, particularly those for families of children with autism
- Large flashcards which you can post to a wall, or keep on a ring or in a binder
- Many of these tools help you continue the use of ABA strategies while helping your child and family
- Focus on the task at hand
- Visually see what task comes next
- Motivates them to complete a current task to move on to a more desirable task
- Check off items and track progress
- Receive notifications of appointments and task reminders by alarms and sound
- Stay on task with visual countdown timers
- Utilize spoken texts for children who do not read or have difficulty reading
The Use of Social Stories
Social Stories are an excellent tool for children with autism and can introduce new environments and activities into your daily routines. Through the use of stories, you can introduce various social situations and help them learn and adopt socially appropriate behaviors and responses in any given environment. Social stories, or story-based interventions, help you implement basic ABA strategies you may currently be working on, to encourage acceptable behavior. Social Stories work well in combination with ABA strategies and across various therapies to replace socially inappropriate behaviors with desirable ones, including tantrums in a grocery store, or to adapt to playgroups.
Social Stories and Social Cues
Children with autism often misunderstand or struggle to read social cues. Social cues include eye contact, body language, facial expressions, and gestures. Social Stories offer a way for children to learn how to behave in various social settings by describing settings and what typically occurs in each setting. Through engaging stories, your child can learn to pick up on cues they may usually overlook.
ABA Strategies Help Children Cope with Changes
ABA strategies and continuous therapy continue to be an effective treatment in:
- Building routines that reinforce positive behaviors
- Breaking down resistance to changes
- Easing into transitions
Your child’s sensory and verbal communication deficits make it more challenging to process and understand new situations. Implementing ABA strategies can help your child learn to cope with changes in their regular routines. One of the main characteristics you may notice with your child is limiting and repetitive patterns of activities, likes, and behaviors. They tend to be inflexible, anxious when facing changes, meticulous to the point of specific needs for:
- Toy placement
- A favorite book
- Use of particular items including towels, clothing, dinnerware
- Particular foods and the order they must eat them in
- Specific words, or the repletion of them
For many children with ASD, deviations from their preferences can trigger the onset of tantrums or anxiety. Adhering to their routine can become obsessively imperative. Changes throw a wrench into their safety net, causing disruption, chaos, and meltdowns.
ABA strategies, including positive rewards and modeling, help ease their resistance to change. In many cases, the implementation of ABA strategies is a significant focus in helping children with autism adapt and adjust to new environments and situations that interfere with their typical daily routines. When implementing ABA strategies correctly, routines can become a powerful tool in introducing new people, environments, and activities.
Working Through Change
Reinforcing your child’s routines can help them reduce their reliance on them. While this may sound counterproductive, think of it this way – using ABA strategies, such as repetition and rewards, helps a new skill or behavior become a long-term, second-nature habit. Routines offer a similar result. As your child develops a sense of predictability in their routine, they develop security and trust. Nurturing these characteristics sets them up for more successful transitions when a new twist presents itself in their typical routine. Coping skills step in as you communicate changes in schedules. Utilize your visual schedules to prevent traumatic reactions to changes in their daily routine. Talk about it beforehand when possible, reassuring your return to their schedule upon completion.
One helpful way to communicate these changes is with backup images or cue cards. If a doctor’s appointment arises unexpectedly, temporarily replace the visual card for that hour with one demonstrating a trip to the doctor. Discuss the change, pointing out the usual activity that follows the appointment. Allow as much preparation as possible for changes in schedules and utilize your ABA strategy tools when possible to help them make a smooth transition. While these visual tools may begin to seem monotonous to you, they help your child make sense of the changes occurring.
Through proper training by highly-skilled professionals, you and your family can learn how to create effective routines while incorporating individualized ABA strategies across all their natural environments. Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we offer an all-encompassing clinic that focuses on family-centered therapy practices and the whole child. We know the importance of creating structure and routines to help your child thrive while meeting your entire family’s demands and goals. We invite you to learn more about our therapies, programs, and free resources today.