Posted: December 19th, 2008 under life on the spectrum, socialization.

Humans all find routines comforting to some degree.    Infants and small children commonly like routines–they want the same food at the same time every day; they want to know what’s next and how long it will last.   Older children and adults build their own routines–it’s easy to get into a rut, walking to school by the same route, driving to work at the same time every day,  meeting friends at the same place on the same day every week for dinner or bridge or a run or a hike.   We put on our clothes in a logical order (instead of putting on jeans, then having to take them off to put on underwear.)   Life without routine is disorganized, and one of the things “SuperNanny” and various “organize your life” experts recommend is setting up routines to ensure that everything that needs to be done gets done as efficiently as possible.   So “routine” by itself is not bad.

Persons with autism are often described as having excessively rigid routines–truer of some autists than others, but the tendency is certainly there.    Children with autism do not like change in a familiar unless they initiate it (and they rarely do so).   The appearance of a substitute teacher…a change in the school schedule…the changes that come with school vacations…a parent taking a different route through a supermarket…someone in the family coming home late from work…any of these can trigger extreme distress.   This need for consistent routines is usually seen as a problem.

But it can also be a strength.   An autistic child readily learns a routine and will usually then stick to it.  First A, then B, then C…no steps will be skipped, and they’ll all be in the right order.   Moreover, if the family can set up useful routines and subroutines to use in emergency/change situations, the familiar routines will  help the child cope with change.   A familiar routine is comforting, calming, to everyone–all of us have some routine that helps us calm down.   Instead of fighting the child’s need to control his/her environment by running through a familiar routine,  use it–understand what that routine accomplishes.  Create routines that accomplish other long-term goals.

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