Routine and structure. Two important words if you are parenting a child on the spectrum. Children with autism will often have quite rigid thinking patterns and it can be difficult for them to generate new ideas. They are constantly trying to make sense of a chaotic world; everyday sounds, conversations, actions, interpreting what people mean, working out what is expected of them. Routine can help.
Routine can make sense of the chaos – it creates some sort of order and allows someone to know what is expected of them and at what times. Having routines in place can reduce a lot of stress and anxiety felt in this unpredictable, ever changing world. Sometimes it can be helpful to use timetables, picture boards, symbols, reminder notes to help the routine structure. In my experience with C, routine is something that comes naturally to him. He likes repetition and actually creates a lot of his own little routines whether it’s to anyone else’s liking or not; he made up his own school morning routine, he has his own trampoline schedule consisting of bouncing at set times of the day, he has routines he goes through when watching tv etc. And then today “but mummy we only buy fish on Fridays. I can’t do that today – it’s Sunday!”
A few Fridays ago, Z chose 2 pet fish for his birthday. After introducing them to the tank and setting up the tank environment he decided he wanted to add more fish. We happened to go on a Friday to get another fish. Today, a rainy Sunday, we thought it was a good idea to go a run to the pet shop to choose the last fish to complete the aquarium Z wanted. It wasn’t a good idea to C – he didn’t expect that to happen on a Sunday, wasn’t prepared for that to happen on a Sunday. His thinking is rigid, it’s not easy to just change the idea that pet shop days must be Fridays.
Is it annoying sometimes that his routines are so set? Yes! Is it frustrating sometimes that he can’t just “change” his routine? Absolutely. But is it causing harm to himself or others? No. So over the last few years I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) to choose my battles. Changing the routine without warning, preparation or explanation can cause way too much stress for him and then also us. If the set routine isn’t causing harm, isn’t damaging or isn’t stopping anyone else’s happiness then why change it? There will be many times where we will have to break routine and there will be days where we do have to deviate from “normal” and those days are hard but today was not one of them – no new pet fish today, that will have to wait til Friday!!