Supporting Your Child With Big Changes In Routine

Children with autism often thrive in predictability. While a parent can go with the flow when there is a change in schedule, for a neurodivergent child, navigating significant changes in routine can be particularly challenging.

Here we will look at ten strategies to support a child with autism in Toronto during times when routine is disrupted in a significant way. Being cognizant of their unique needs and offering a structured and supportive home environment can make the transition smoother for everyone involved.

1. Utilize Visual Supports and Schedules
Abrupt changes in routine can be mollified if you utilize visual supports and schedules to communicate these changes in a visual manner. Some of these visual tools include: calendars, social stories and charts. They act to provide a concrete way for your child to understand the upcoming changes and put them in an order that makes sense to them.

2. Make Use Of Social Stories
Find social stories that specifically address the upcoming changes in a child’s routine. These stories are useful for explaining new situations and can be tailored to your child’s understanding. In general, social stories are a valuable tool because they provide immediate clarity in a visual layout.

3. Offer Predictability Through Information
Children with neurodivergence don’t like surprises when it comes to their routines. Inform them about the changes in advance. Be their foundation of predictability by taking the time to explain what is about to happen, and give them time to prepare mentally for the upcoming shift in routine.

4. Maintain Consistent Elements
As much as possible, try to stay the course. If there is a changing routine, try to retain some consistent elements from the previous one. You might be able to identify aspects that can remain consistent, providing a stable anchor amid the chaos of alterations to help your child’s sense of security.

5. Gradual Introductions
When it comes to routines and neurodivergent children, nothing should be changed too abruptly. Introduce changes gradually where you can. Easing transitions allows your child to brace themselves to any changes in the works, tampering their anxiety and giving them a sense of control.

6. Provide Choices
Giving your child options allows them to have some autonomy over upcoming changes to their schedule. Offer choices within the context of the changing routine. Providing some level of control can empower your child and make the transition more manageable.

7. Communicate Clearly and Positively
Be mindful of the language you use when introducing changes to what’s expected. Use a clear and upbeat tone when discussing shifts in routine. Frame the adjustments in a positive light, and make the changes seem exciting, or coming with new  potential benefits.

8. Be Mindful of Sensory Needs
With changes to routines comes new sights and sounds that may cause discomfort or anxiety in a neurodivergent child. Consider the sensory sensitivities during changes. Be mindful of the ways an environment can cause disruption, and take the steps to ensure that a safe space accommodates your child’s needs and creates a minimum of potential stressors.

9. Create New Transition Rituals
Sometimes new traditions are in order to bridge the gap from one system to another. Help your child create some transition rituals or routines. Having specific rituals associated with transitions can signal to your child that a change is approaching, providing a cue for mental preparation.

10. Monitor and Adjust
Keep tabs on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to changes in routine. Regularly monitor your child’s response to alterations in the schedule and be open-minded to the manner in which you make adjustments. Every child is unique, so staying cognizant to their reactions allows for some refinement of your support strategies as you go.

At Monarch House we have a Toronto autism diagnostic team to help parents ease their neurodivergent children into new routines. Supporting an autistic child through significant changes in routine requires a thoughtful and individualized approach. By incorporating these strategies, you can create an environment that eases the transition, fostering a sense of security and helping your child navigate changes more smoothly.