Early in the morning after getting up, the next two to three hours race past as in fast motion. Every minute is worth a fortune, until all and everything is ready! Wake up the children, the following bathroom marathon, fixing breakfast and off to school, pre-school or kindergarten. How do children with autism have to feel in these early morning rushes?
After you have finished and the kids are gone or dropped off, you have the feeling to have consumed at least two-thirds of its available daily energy and the urgent need of a double shot espresso. This is a daily challenge for all families.
However, if you have a child on the autism spectrum, this early morning rush alone can lead to the end of your own capacity being reached. The child’s stress level is then at its top as well, already before even starting the day.
It does not have to be that way. Living with autism is possible in a good manner Also and especially in stressful situations, which undoubtedly include the early morning routine.
Structure is required!
We would like to help you with some strategies that can take the stress out of everyday life and reduce potential anxiety levels in your child.
Children with autism do require structure. Procedures and tasks have to be foreseeable and changes have to be anticipated. Change of activities have to be foreseeable and times for these activities have to be predefined.
Structuring activities helps children with autism to understand how certain routines are going to proceed and the child can better adapt to it.
How neurotypical children and children with autism react to sudden changes
Indeed, it is important for all people to be able to foresee what will happen next. In the case of neurotypical children, the procedure is basically stored at a certain age and for a certain period of time. If there are deviations or reminders are required, they can be communicated in a relatively simple way. The process does not overwhelm them, because they know him well and changes can absorb them relatively well.
For children on the autism spectrum, it is very difficult to arrive in this unstructured process. It often takes months before a certain procedures are integrated. This means, it is a great effort for children with autism to overcome day after day. If the smallest changes occur there, the whole system collapses like a house of cards, anxiety and stress level rises and the situation can easily spin out of control.
Therefore, structures and the predictability of everyday activities are so important for the children.
The child must be able to understand the day or schedule and be guided by the tools you can provide.
The basic paradigm though is:
“As much help as necessary, as little help as possible”
Always consider, children with autism do have a great potential of learning. They just need our guidance in certain situation.
Ten steps that help you to structure everyday life with autism:
- As a parent and then together with your child (age-dependent), reflect on the morning schedule. When, where and why does stress come in
- Address the needs of your child, e.g. how long does it take to get up? Is it immediately hungry or is it better to wash and dress in the bathroom first? Is there time to play or does it cause a conflict?
- Try to keep the process the same every day from Monday to Friday. On weekends, the there can be the same process or it can also run differently on these days, for example: sleep longer and then have breakfast.
- Using an autism-friendly-calendar, or a magnetic chart to make the child understand which day is today and what activities are taking place today (such as school, occupational therapy).
- If it comes to changes in the process because of z. Important dates, to make the child understand the day before (or even two days before), e.g. using the picture cards or the activity planner and discuss that with the child.
- Use time-timers for activities like breakfast, tooth-brushing or playtime so that the child can anticipate when the next procedure shall start (read more here on how to do time-management with your child).
- Watch carefully, where are still restless or stressful phases. What can I change to make it better? Depending on the age of the child, this should be discussed and reflected together with the child.
- Start piece by piece. Do not structure directly throughout the day. This costs a lot of time, strength and energy and could overwhelm all involved all the sudden.
- Start the structuring at first only with the morning or, if it is easier, with the evening schedule:
- Start with just one picture card per activity at the beginning and then gradually take the next cards:
- In the beginning, start the plan superficially, e.g. with the picture cards bathroom, kitchen, hallway, so it is not immediately too much information for the child. If the child gets along well with it, the next picture cards can be added.
- It is important that the child understands the picture cards and the related activity. Then, piece by piece with the child, you can go into more detail and build the plan further.
- The plan should hang in a well-visible place in the rooms. This can be super fixed with double-sided tape.
The most important, most effective and most difficult challenge: stay calm! If something is not going as it should be, draw the best possible conclusions from the situation. Everyone has to first get to know and understand the handling and the special needs before they can handle them well. In autism, the whole thing is many times more complicated than with children without special needs. Therefore: If the situation still stresses you too much, go out for a moment, take a deep breath and start all over again. The next morning it is guaranteed to run better!
General recommendations about picture cards:
Picture cards for morning activities e.g. getting up, bathroom, kitchen, possibly playing time, hallway, way to school.
For children who can already read, you can also create the plan in writing or use the morning activity planner.
This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)