Routines and resistance to change are common among children with autism spectrum disorder. For example they may prefer following the same order when getting dressed, taking the same transport after school or having the same cereal for breakfast. Routines can provide structure and predictability which help children feel safe and reassured. When routines are broken, they may feel uneasy and respond in a variety of ways, for example tantrums, resistance or aggressive behaviours. These responses may be the result of anxiety or the inability to communicate their emotions or needs.

If possible, try to let your child know what’s going to happen ahead of time. You could also show your child some pictures of what may happen in the form of a visual schedule. This may help minimise the stress and reaction caused by changes. However, in real life, changes are inevitable, for example school may be cancelled due to typhoon. When the reactions to changes are disruptive or when the routines cause harm or affect learning, you may want to increase your child’s ability to cope with changes and break over inflexible routines.

 

To increase your child’s ability to cope with changes, you may:

  • Start introducing small, pleasant changes and slowly work your way up over time.
  • Include a “surprise” card for unexpected activities in your visual schedule. Remember to use the surprise card for fun surprises as well so that your child can associate surprises with pleasant experiences.
  • Encourage your child to use relaxation skills, such as deep breathing, when changes cause distress.
  • Provide a calm presence. For example talk in a calm tone, let your child know that it is okay even though changes happen.
  • Recognise your child’s effort, praise and reward your child when he is able cope with changes.

 

These may help prepare your child to be more flexible and tolerant of changes in daily life. If you have additional questions about handling routine changes, approach a professional who works with your child to see if you can come up with a plan.