Consider a day, any day in your life. You plan your day in advance so that it can go smoothly and if anything unexpected comes along you usually have the ability to deal with it. For example, on an ordinary day you get up, take a bath, eat breakfast, get ready for school, university or office, have your means of transport all set and you go about your day as you had planned it. You follow this routine religiously throughout the week. What if on any day your car breaks down, you have only five minutes to decide how effectively you can commute to your work place before getting late. You might take a bus or a taxi or a lift from your friend. As adults we think up of ways to deal with contingencies. As parents we have many alternative plans because the number of contingencies increases in direct proportion to the number of kids one has.
The thing is we plan for our entire family with kids having no idea how life is running so smoothly. We wake them up, make them eat breakfast, get them ready for school, teachers make them study, we set rules at home for play and study times and then finally we make them go to bed. Although they might not agree with our set routine but for their sanity and ours structure in life is important.
During an ordinary day , our NT kids are not really bothered by changes in routine. If anything unexpected comes along they might question about it and are easily satisfied with our answers. Problem arises when our ASD kids meet with a change they knew nothing about. They don’t have any means to comprehend how come there was a change in routine and how to deal with it. As a result they become highly anxious which usually gives way to meltdowns.
My daughter, for example, knows what to expect on an ordinary day, but if we make a plan of going out somewhere we have to prepare her in advance. She has to know whether we are going to her grandparents, or her aunt, or a shopping mall, or seaside etc. She knows the routes too so we cannot fool her. If Im getting ready to go somewhere without her, I have to tell her exactly where I am going , for example, market, hospital or a party and with whom she is going to stay (usually her Grandma or dad). But she has come a long way and is at a stage where she can be satisfied with verbal description of what to expect each day. Many ASD kids, especially those newly diagnosed, have no idea about set routines. In this post I will suggest a few ways in which structure can be added to their lives that will help both the kids and the parents like it helped me and many other ASD parents.
For newly diagnosed kids picture schedules are a must have. Pictures are available online all you, as a parent, have to do is set up a valid routine that you are going to follow religiously for your kid. Get or make pictures for each activity of that schedule which is very easy to comprehend by the child and paste this schedule in a place that is easily visible to the child.
The schedule for the entire day at home can be like follows (you can make changes according to your lifestyle):
1. Washroom time
2. Breakfast time
3. School/work time(if there’s any)
4. Bath time
5. Lunch time
6. Nap time (if there is any need)
7. Park time/ Play time
8. Study/work time
9. Dinner time
10. iPad time
11. Sleep time
This is a general schedule for the entire day. Each activity in the general schedule can further be broken down into smaller parts to help the child know what is expected of him in each activity. For example if it’s washroom time, paste a mini schedule in the washroom for the child to know what to do in the washroom. For example:
If the child in question attends any school or rehabilitation center then you can add a schedule for all the activities he/she is likely to do there. For example for a rehabilitation center the schedule could be something like this:
1. O.T time
2. Speech time
3. Work time
4. Snack time
5. Music time
6. Play time
7. Home time
For a school the schedule can be something like this:
1. Assembly time
2. Circle time (for Montessori classes)
4. Recess time
6. Music time
7. Home time
For work time at home:
Someone asked me how to manage a newly diagnosed child’s routine at home if he is not attending any kind of school or rehab? Well the general schedule for that child would remain the same as described above customized to the mother’s daily routine. If you are working with him at home make a work schedule something like follows:
9. Sorting objects (you can start sorting with two colors or two shapes)
10. Body parts
11. Matching objects (pic to pic etc)
These are just some examples of activities with which I started working with my daughter. Start with only two or three activities depending on your child’s level of cognition. Then add up activities one at a time up to five activities a day in work time. Give breaks between each activity and use reinforcers (candies, chips, m&ms, or favorite toy), and lots of verbal reinforcers ( high fives, good job, yay etc) to keep the child motivated.
How to work with the child during the work time is a topic for another post. The purpose of this post was to show how schedules are setup to make life meaningful and easy for the ASD kiddos. There are a number of different schedules on the internet, especially Pinterest. Just type in picture schedules for Autism or PECS for Autism and your screen would start showing many pictures and schedules to choose from.
Remember the important thing is to use the schedule religiously and after a while your ASD kiddo would’ve learned his/her daily routine by heart. I hope this post about setting up schedules for an ASD child were of help.
Until next time