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Top Ways to Approach Time Management on the Spectrum

September 9, 2023

All too often there is too much to do and too little time to do it all. For students, time management can be a real struggle.

Top Ways to Approach Time Management on the Spectrum

They have school work, chores, planning (next school year, independent living, college, jobs), extracurricular activities, and sometimes pressures from peers and society—the elephant gets bigger as the list grows!

When students and young adults on the autism spectrum find themselves with so many demands on their time, meltdowns, tantrums, and/or procrastination may occur.

With all these to-dos how can we help and support our students and young adults in managing these situations? I like to use a simple analogy—chunk it out, don’t eat the elephant!

When things get busy and are overwhelming you have to help your child take one chunk at a time to find balance and reduce stress. Try these simple steps:

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1. Don’t over commit

Think about what the priorities are for a given time period. By taking some time to make a list of what needs to be done and determining when he/she need to accomplish each task will help in saying “yes or no” to certain assignments, opportunities. or outings. For example, a child may get invited to a classmate’s birthday party on the same day as his/her hockey game.

Instead of racing to each event, which may cause stress, anxiety, and increased exhaustion for the child and family members, simply decline the party invitation and send a gift to school prior to the weekend. This allows the child to keep his/her commitment to his/her team and keep the focus on one thing.

Saying no to an extra event starts to set boundaries for both the child and family thus not overcommitting to another thing! This may lessen the emotions of doing too much and having to manage the extra downtime to relax.

2. Make a schedule and stick to it

Take the time to create a schedule of upcoming events. You do not have to plan far into the future; try focusing on one week at a time or even one day. Plan on a Sunday or during dinner the night before, to think about what and where the child needs to be. In pre-planning, ask the child questions and scenarios about various situations.

For example, when is he/she going to eat during the day? How much does he/she like to work on one task, and when does he/she need a break? How long should breaks last and what activities can be done during this time (is this a good time to use games, videos, and computers?)? Does your child’s plan allow for meals and breaks during the day? Is the plan realistic? Write it down and revisit the plan! Plans change as time goes on.

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3. Stop waiting until the last minute—procrastination is not your friend!

Plan backward from when something is due. I like to ask my clients how long something will take and then add in some “buffer time.” Most stress comes from waiting until the last minute to work on something or when unplanned things happen. A few tricks I love to share with clients are:

  • Know the due date and write down on a calendar what steps you will take each day to meet your goal.
  • Give yourself some thinking time! During lower stress times, we often think of alternatives, new and creative solutions, and even items that may have been missed. Give yourself the gift of time and creativity!
  • Break up a task into small chunks of time and balance it with fun activities and rewards. If a student can focus for thirty minutes, set a timer and work on one thing. When the timer goes off, take a break, eat a snack, or go for walk; know what these activities are but set another timer for a shorter time, say, ten minutes. Go through this rotation three or four times and watch how much progress is made!
  • When chunking out a task, figure out what is best: tackling the harder or easier items first. Knowing what is left to do can help with developing schedules and focus time.

These are just a few simple steps to breaking down all the tasks into more manageable chunks. Parents can encourage their children and young adults to think about the end goals and create a plan.

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Planning the elephant is the most important component along with setting enough time aside to get everything done.

It takes time and practice to develop these time management skills. Having a conversation with your children about what their motivations and consequences are for situations can help drive towards completion and success.

This article was featured in Issue 101 – Balancing The Autism Journey

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