6 Simple Tips For Helping Someone With Autism Get Into a Routine
Starting or getting into routines can be difficult for teens and young adults with autism and learning differences. Here are six basic steps you can use to help someone on the spectrum establish normal routines.
These steps can be used by anyone looking to either get back to a routine, start a new one, or help someone else create and follow a routine.
Step 1: Finding Motivation
It is important to find your personal motivation and answer the question of why this routine is important to you to make it successful. A quick and easy way to do this is to work backward. Think of the big goal you want to accomplish in the next week, month, or semester. Then, ask yourself why you want to accomplish this goal. For many students, their goals are related to becoming more independent or having more overall freedom. Once we have a long term goal, we determine what this might look like.
Now we must answer the question “Why?” For a student, it might be to earn more money or have more free time. Once you determine what you want, it is easier to motivate yourself to start the daily routines necessary to accomplish your long term goals.
Step 2: Create a Visual
Once you know your goal and why you want to accomplish it, set up visual reminders. This is most important on those days we would rather sleep in or skip a necessary routine like cleaning. It is too easy to get caught up in the day to day stressors and forget about what we want to accomplish. Creating a visual can help remind us why a routine is important, and help keep our motivation consistent.
First, create a visual that works for you. For some, this might simply be writing the goal and the reason why you want to accomplish the goal and taping it up on your wall. For others, they might prefer to create a picture to represent the goal. For example, if your goal is to be more independent and have more free time, printing a picture of the things you want to do during your free time, like playing video games, can be a nice addition to the written goal and statement of why you want to accomplish your goal. The best place to hang a visual is somewhere you will see it every day. Some good locations are the bathroom mirror or above your dresser. See the example below.
|Long Term Goal: Be more independent, and have fewer check-ins with parents or teachers|
|Why: So I have more free time to play video games|
Step 3: Make a Plan for Success
Now that you know your goal and the reason why you want to accomplish your goal as well as a visual representation of your goal, it is time to figure out how to make your goal a reality. Without a plan, it is very unlikely we will continue daily routines. All goals require for us to be present. This means starting with a clear morning routine is going to give you the best opportunity for success.
A simple tool to make a plan is to create a three column worksheet. You can make this digital or drawn on a piece of paper. The first column should be titled TIME, the second TASK, and the third TIME NEEDED. First, list out exactly what needs to be accomplished every morning in the second column titled task. Next, add the specific time needed to complete each task in the third column. Then, starting with the last task, add the time of day the step needs to be accomplished and work backward. The example below shows creating a plan for morning routines.
|8:00 AM||Wake Up||5 minutes|
|8:05 AM||Motivate Self for the day (review goal, review schedule, etc.)||5 minutes|
|8:10 AM||Take Shower||15 minutes|
|8:25 AM||Get Dressed||5 minutes|
|8:30 AM||Brush Teeth||2 minutes|
|8:32 AM||Make Bed||5 minutes|
|8:37 AM||Eat Breakfast||15 minutes|
|8:52 AM||Gather Items for Day||3 minutes|
|8:55 AM||Walk to First Appointment||5 minutes|
This tool can be used to plan for any necessary routines needed to accomplish long term goals.
Step 4: Implement Supports
No one can accomplish a goal alone. Implementing supports is key to getting back into routines to help reach long term goals. Supports can be electronic, visual, or verbal/physical prompts. The simplest supports to implement are electronic alarms and reminders. Using your plan, you can add alarms to remind you to start a routine.
You can also use a digital calendar to send you reminders throughout the day of tasks needing to be completed. Visual reminders can be listed steps on how to accomplish a task or reminders to complete the task. For example, putting a note on the refrigerator stating “take medications” can be helpful to complete the task. Verbal and physical prompts can be very effective, however, should be used with caution. This is a great place to start if a student is having a difficult time resetting a routine. However, the support of being prompted by another person should only be temporary as the goal is to be able to manage daily routines independently.
Click here to find out more
Step 5: Track Progress
Most people start a new routine with high hopes. However, it is common for the day to day routines to be interrupted by distractions or out of routine events. Tracking your progress will not only help you stay on track with your goals but help keep the motivation to follow routines when distractions occur. You can track routines electronically or on paper. The easiest strategy is to have a monthly calendar or monthly tracking sheet posted in a location you see every day. At the end of the day, indicate if you followed your routines. See the example below.
|Day of the Month||Morning Routine||Exercise 30 min||Evening Routine|
|3||(simply check off each day)||(simply check off each day)||(simply check off each day)|
You can add as many routines, or day to day goals to the chart to track progress.
Step 6: Set Up Rewards
The quickest way to get off track and stay off track is to lose sight of the progress you are making and never reward yourself for that progress. Setting up rewards will look different for everyone, however, the concept of how to set up rewards is simple. First, list some things you like to do, purchase, or eat. Next, determine a small reward you can give yourself daily. This might be giving yourself a half hour in the afternoon to watch TV or play video games.
The key to setting up a daily reward is determining the tasks needing to be accomplished to earn the reward the day before. For example, if you want to reward yourself with TV time on Monday, determine on Sunday night how you will earn this. It might be following all routines, or just one, depending on the tasks for the next day. Then, the most important step is to follow through. If you set the reward to be earned if you accomplished all tasks, and only accomplish one, you have to hold yourself accountable and not reward yourself. If this continues to happen, lower the expectation of your reward. Ideally, you want to be making small progress every day and rewarding yourself daily to keep your momentum going.
The best reward systems have multiple rewards set up varying in size, price, or personal desire. Setting up a daily, weekly, and monthly reward is best to help build momentum and keep motivation high. A quick way to follow through with your rewards is to add additional columns to your monthly tracker and write in your rewards. As a bonus, this is an additional way to visualize your motivation! See the example below.
|Day of the Month||Morning Routine||Exercise 30 min||Evening Routine||How to Earn Reward||Reward|
|1||✔||✔||✔||accomplish all daily routines||watch 30 min of TV|
Getting into a routine is challenging for everyone. If you are helping your student get back into a routine, the most important rule to follow is engage them in the whole process. Everyone struggles with routines, especially if we don’t help create them ourselves. We can not expect students to have buy-in for routines we create for them if they are not part of the process.
If you have a young student, between ages 4-10, you can still engage them in the process. It might need to be simplified, but everyone likes to know why they are engaging in a routine, being rewarded for their progress, and accomplishing a goal. Also, it is important to remember that following routines will be interrupted, and things will come up day to day to interrupt routines. It is going to happen, and it is okay. The best thing to do is go back to your motivation and visualization to remind yourself or your student why the routine is important and keep trying.
This article was featured in Issue 87 – Building ASD Awareness and Communication