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This is Day 10 in the series: 31 days on Living with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder: What We Have Tried, What Has Worked, What Hasn’t Worked, and Never Giving Up.
Routine is one of the most powerful tools to maintain peace. Most kids thrive on routine but for ADHD, SPD, Autistic kids routine is a necessity. Whenever Mr Rockstar is having WAY too many melt downs it is usually because we have gotten off our routine.
Peace in the Storm of Life
Just because routine is helpful doesn’t mean your entire day needs to be on a strict schedule and completely inflexible. I find that what works best is to have a rhythm to our day.
In the book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, family consultant Kim John Payne talks about how valuable having a predictable rhythm is and making sure there are daily moments of calm. It all sounds great but how does it practically work out? Our families patterns slowly change over time but for now it looks like:
- Free play
- Make beds, brush teeth, some school work
- 9:00 AM Walk to school – oftentime we do this walk even when it isn’t a school day! If it is too cold or wet for a walk then we will have indoor exercise time.
- Finish school work at home
- Free Play Time
- 12:00 PM Walk to school and/or outdoor play time
- Lunch (often a picnic lunch)
- 1:00 pm Nap/Rest time – Usually Mr Rockstar get some cartoons in the afternoon hill his sisters nap so I have a little quiet time!
- Free play
- 4:30 PM Snack
- Outdoor activity – hike, bike, etc
- 7:00 PM Dinner – candlelight to make it special
- 8:00 PM Chamomile Tea and Bedtime Routine
Times in bold we are more strict with. All other times/events are more flexible. For example, if Mr Rockstar has a doctors appointment in the morning then after our morning walk we go to the doctor instead of doing school work and then we finish school later in the afternoon. If we get off routine slightly the kids know we will be back to predictability by the next meal time.
Using fire at the dinner table (especially in the winter) has become a family ritual. Turning off other lights and having an oil lamp on the table is captivating to the children. It draws them to dinner, helps them stay there and sets a mood of togetherness. We don’t always do this but the nights we do are special.
Besides establishing a rhythm, other good recommendations in Simplicity Parenting are de-cluttering the home so children aren’t overwhelmed by choices, simplifying family schedules so there is time for just “Being”, and unplugging so kids aren’t overwhelmed constantly by a barrage of media and marketing. I am really drawn to the idea of rhythm, de-cluttering, downtime, and unplugging. The hardest for me is unplugging since it is so much easier in the short turn to use cartoons as a pacifier. When I am better about limiting electronic media, within a day or two, I notice the kids play so much better. Again if you have established a routine that says there are only a few specific times electronic media are allowed then the kids are much more accepting. They know when to expect it and when not to and they know that whining won’t change the routine. More on electronic media another day….
Having a routine is great but how do you handle deviations from the routine? Almost everyday has some unexpected event. Some days we have an appointment to see a therapist, some days are soccer practice, some days are playgroup or field trips, some days I go into work and the babysitter comes over, etc. During occupational therapy the therapists typically use a visual (since Mr Rockstar can’t read yet) calendar. It has pictures that can easily be rearranged to show what is going to happen and in what order. Transistions are always hard for Mr Rockstar and take a lot of prepping. One thing that helps with this is the visual calendar. He can see what is coming up next. Another great thing about the visual calendar is you can give the child control of a few events each day. I might sit down with Mr Rockstar first thing in the morning (or the night before) to review the upcoming days events. I would put Breakfast, and Walk to School on the calendar, then he could pick Ride his Bike, then I would add School work, then he could add a favorite Sensory Activity, then I could add Lunch and he could add Hiking, etc.
Making a visual calendar is easy. All you need is a 3 ring binder, some velcro stickers, pictures of the regular activities to go on the calendar laminated and cut out, plus a few extra blank pages just laminated and put in the binder. \
- Put a velcro sticker on the back of each little picture
- Put the mating velcro stickers on the front of the binder to represent the day’s activities and put more in the blank sheets inside the binder to hold the activities you aren’t going to do today
- Make one or two blank events that can be used like a dry erase board if something really out of the usual comes up
If you don’t want to make a visual calendar like this you can always just draw the day’s activities on the chalkboard. Mr Rockstar has LOVED doing this with babysitters before. They come up with a “play” schedule and this helps him stay on track and not get crazy with the babysitter. Don’t worry if your drawings aren’t very good. It is more about them knowing the plan and having some participation in drawing it up.
Timer and Apps
To help with transitions I have learned giving Mr Rockstar a warning (and the twins too!) 5 to 10 minutes before we need to switch gears helps a lot. We recently took a Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility class put on by one of Mr Rockstars therapists. In the class they suggest that instead of saying “We have to leave the playground in 5 min.” you pose it as a question “Would you like to leave the playground now or in 5 min?”. This one simple change in how I prep the kids for transitions is AMAZING!!! Children will make many things into a decision even when you aren’t really giving them a decision…you are giving them a fact. So even though you say “We are going to leave in 5 min.” In their heads they make this a choice between leaving in 5 min or staying. Changing the wording to “Would you like to leave now or in 5 min?” suddenly gives them a little piece of control and I am happy either way they decide. Using this strategy has really cut down on transition battles.
Another aide in transitioning is to use a timer, bell, or better yet music. One “nice” thing about the inflexibility of autistic kids is once you have a routine and practice (for instance when I ring the bell it is dinner time) they think that is what MUST happen even if that isn’t what they particularly want at the moment.
I really like the Fred Rogers Foundation app called “Everyday Grooves”. It is a free app and has songs with topics such as “Let’s Say Goodbye”, “Get Ready Let’s Go”, “Time to Eat”, “Let’s Brush Our Teeth”, “Clean-up”, etc. The app will let you set a timer for each song so it goes off when the kids “5 minutes” are up….and I don’t find the songs too annoying as a parent.
If you don’t have an apple device you can download the songs from Amazon at: Everyday Grooves from the Fred Rogers Center
So what are your routine tricks? and must haves? I would LOVE to hear what works for you!