How Routines and Rules Can Help Autistic Children Thrive
For many parents of autistic children, finding the right balance between setting up and enforcing rules and structuring their children’s daily lives can be difficult.
On the one hand, you want to establish clear boundaries, set limits, and provide structure. This way, your child doesn’t get into too much trouble or feel overwhelmed by her surroundings. On the other hand, you want to allow your child some freedom to make her own decisions and learn how to navigate the world independently.
If you’re the parent of an autistic child, routines and rules can help with the stress of your situation. Routines and rules provide consistent patterns your child can use to understand his world. They allow him to feel more in control and less overwhelmed with each step he learns to take on his own.
Here are some ways routines and rules can help autistic children thrive!
1. Routines give children an idea of what to expect every day.
Establishing clear routines, like what they do when they wake up, after breakfast, before school, and after school, helps autistic children know what will happen next so they won’t feel anxious about it.
This also applies to adults in autistic adult home care. They will also know what’s expected of them in each situation because there are explicit rules about it that everyone follows.
2. Routines help children organize their day.
Having set times for completing tasks helps autistic children organize their day more efficiently.
For example, if one task needs to be done before another task, then establish a time limit. If a task is not completed by the given time, an alert should go off, letting the child know that they need to switch gears and complete this task instead.
Likewise, if your child has specific times when they must do things, such as eat dinner or take medication, then give them an alarm on their phone to remind them if needed.
3. Rules allow children to behave as they should in any given situation.
Setting ground rules such as, You may not throw rocks at the car, or You must wear shoes outside, shows your child what behavior is expected of them without having to tell them all day.
4. Routines help manage the behavior of children.
Setting clear rules and consequences can be a useful strategy for managing the behavior of an autistic child. These rules should be introduced one at a time so that the child can adjust to each rule before being introduced to the next one.
They should also be as specific as possible to provide the clearest guidance to your child. For example, no hitting would be better than no violence. The consequence should also take into account the severity of the infraction. For instance, if a child hits someone with their hand but it is not hard enough to hurt them, then taking away their favorite toy for two days might suffice.
5. Routines and rules grant children choices when they can handle them.
Allowing children to make choices when they can handle them but setting boundaries when they cannot is one way to help them feel in control. Offering two options and letting the child choose which one he wants is a safe way to allow choice without overloading him with too many options.
How to Create a Calming Routine
Here are the steps to create routines and rules that help autistic children thrive:
Step 1: Know what your child wants to do.
The first step to creating a calming routine is deciding what you want your autistic child to do. This can be as simple as sitting in a certain spot in the house or lying down for 20 minutes before bed. Once you know what you want your child to do, start small and gradually increase the length of time they spend doing it.
For example, if you want them to sit in one spot for 10 minutes every day, start with just 2-3 minutes per day. Eventually, work up to 10 minutes per day for two weeks or so. If the routine includes a behavior such as walking slowly around the room or touching each wall, remember to congratulate them when they complete it!
Step 2: Use visual support.
Visual supports can be a great way to help autistic children learn. Using visuals will make it easier for them to remember what they are supposed to do in different situations, which is especially useful when they feel stressed or overwhelmed.
For example, an easel with the days of the week on it can be used by an autistic child to remember what day it is or which task he or she should be working on next.
It can also be helpful to set up visual cues around your house, such as a sign that says SCHOOL at the front door, so your child knows when it’s time for school.
Step 3: Teach non-verbal communication skills early.
When teaching non-verbal communication skills, it is important to start early. Non-verbal skills are the best way to help children who have difficulty communicating verbally.
Communication through body language is a crucial skill that will help your child in many aspects of life. The earlier you teach these skills, the easier it will be for them to learn and master. As they grow older, they will become more comfortable with their communication skills because they have been practicing them since childhood.
Step 4: Communicate with caregivers, teachers, and other professionals.
The key to successful routines is in understanding how your child learns. What are their strengths? How do they process information? What things make them feel safe, secure, and happy?
If you can answer these questions, you’ll be able to provide the structure they need while meeting their needs as individuals. This will be a balancing act because every child is different but with patience, understanding, and love, this balance can be achieved.
These are just a few ways routines and rules that can help autistic children thrive. To make these work best, you should involve the child in setting up the routine or rule. This will be a chance to show them how they can have control over their own life.