Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that significantly impacts an individual’s ability to communicate, engage in social interactions, and manage behavior. For children living with autism, navigating changes and unpredictability in their environment can be particularly challenging, often resulting in heightened stress, anxiety, and developmental difficulties. The concept of routines in autism is fundamental when considering ways to support these kids.
At ABA Centers of Pennsylvania, we strongly emphasize integrating routines into our ABA therapy services for children and teenagers on the autism spectrum. We recognize the tremendous benefits that adhering to established schedules can provide for individuals with ASD. In this article, we delve into the significance of routines in autism and offer insights on seamlessly incorporating them into your home life.
What is the Significance of Routines in Autism?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), one of the critical diagnostic criteria for ASD is the presence of repetitive or restricted patterns of behavior, interests, or hobbies. Children with autism often gravitate toward routines and consistency involving daily activities, mealtimes, specific toys, or bedtime rituals.
This inclination towards sameness becomes even more pronounced when considering the tendency for impulsivity and fixation in autism. Some children with ASD may meticulously arrange their toys, require their food to be placed precisely on their plates, or insist on hearing stories in a particular tone. Any deviation from these routines can trigger heightened anxiety and stress, potentially leading to emotional distress and meltdowns.
What Are the Benefits of Routines in Autism?
Research shows that disciplined daily routines offer various benefits for children and teens on the spectrum. Consistency and predictability are fundamental in preventing tantrums and meltdowns, so prioritizing ways to keep these at the forefront is a must for parents and caregivers. Here are some of the top benefits of routines in autism:
1. Fostering Independence – Routines can improve overall social-emotional health in individuals with autism. By remaining consistent in their daily endeavors, children on the spectrum gain considerable confidence that fosters independence and autonomy. They can prepare for things ahead of time and avoid jeopardizing situations where they feel out of place or mind.
2. Creating a Sense of Ownership – Similar to gaining confidence, routines help children gain a sense of ownership over their day. This idea of championing their tasks helps them feel accomplished, productive, and worthy. Each day they successfully carry out their routine is a stepping stone toward a sustainable and fulfilling life.
3. Enhancing Cooperation – In a social setting, established routines allow children to more easily communicate with parents, caregivers, siblings, and other loved ones; this can translate into academics, as children can also engage closely with teachers, therapists, and other educators to convey their thoughts and grow from what they learn during sessions. With predictability and confidence, children respond more constructively to commands no matter the setting.
4. Strengthening Connections With Caregivers – A child on the spectrum is much less likely to lash out or hold contempt toward their caregivers when adhering to a routine. Since they know what to expect and can plan their choices and decision-making accordingly, they’ll be much more apt to listen and follow instructions than if they received them out of the blue.
5. Reducing Power Struggles – Without a routine’s structure, children with ASD often have difficulty leaving or abandoning activities when asked to switch to necessary tasks like chores, exercise, and personal hygiene. A regimen allows them to transition between tasks more efficiently since they get used to these essential activities and can internally prepare for a change in advance. In turn, fewer power struggles arise between the child and their parents where each side feels like what they want to do is what they should be doing.
6. Providing a Secure Environment – Since repetition and sameness provide comfort for individuals with autism, this translates well in the context of an environment. When children routinely play, learn, and grow in the exact location or setting, they can adapt to their surroundings comfortably with minimal setbacks from sensory-related challenges.
7. Teaching New Skills – When a child goes through their day in a structured routine, they are much more receptive to strengthening existing skills and learning new ones. Being free from stress and anxiety allows them to capitalize on fresh experiences and gather beneficial insights when they present themselves.
8. Facilitating Change – Unexpected moments are still bound to happen, even with a disciplined routine. However, once a child adapts to this norm, they’ll feel less blindsided by any shifts or drastic changes. These changes can include leaving their house, trying new foods, visiting a new location such as a doctor’s office or a grocery store, addressing guests, and dealing with canceled activities due to illness, weather, or time constraints.
How Do I Create and Maintain a Routine for My Child?
Taking the first steps toward establishing and enforcing a routine can be challenging for parents and caregivers unfamiliar with the process. However, this process is manageable with the correct approach, no matter the unique setting. Something to keep in mind is that committing to your routine is a priority. Once you implement these patterns, you’re not doing yourself any favors by stopping abruptly or not following through. Doing so can cause even more confusion and make it harder to establish a new routine the next time.
Here are some skills you can consider when creating a structured routine for yourself and your family:
- Navigate your child through their new daily routine so they can quickly learn what you expect from them. Ensure you leave no room for misinterpretation, and remember to explain what they need to do for each task thoroughly. Ambiguity can leave children stressed as they may fear asking about something if the child believes they should know even when they don’t.
- Create a visual schedule your child can view throughout the day to reinforce the importance of each task. Items like calendars, cork or whiteboards, posters, and other physical aids can help them see what they need to do, what they’ve already accomplished, and their progress.
- Use positive reinforcement with your child by rewarding them once they complete specific daily tasks and objectives.
- Integrate new tasks into an established routine once your child is familiar with their daily endeavors. However, this should happen slowly and carefully so as not to overwhelm your child.
- Remember to make things fun! Implementing a routine doesn’t need to be boring, so incorporate activities your child enjoys. You can also be creative with your ideas, whether making fun and interactive designs on your physical aids or incorporating music as your child completes tasks.
- Familiarize yourself with ways to break or alter your routine if something requires a change. Random occurrences can happen at anytime, such as illness, a family loss, or schedule changes. Remember to be open and honest with your child when these events happen so they understand the situation and can prepare for the necessary adjustments.
ABA Therapy Can Help Your Child Adapt to Routines
ABA therapy, considered the gold standard in autism care, can help your child grow accustomed to a routine. ABA Centers of Pennsylvania offers child and teen ABA therapy to teach valuable developmental skills as your loved one navigates through their daily tasks. We also provide in-home ABA therapy options to help children adjust to these changes directly. If you believe your child may need additional assistance with an established routine, don’t hesitate to reach out for a free consultation.
Call (844) 444-7496 or visit our website to learn more about our ABA services.