Routines are how families organise themselves to get things done, spend time together and have fun. Routines help family members know who should do what, when, in what order and how often.
Some routines might be for things you do every day – for example, getting ready for bed. These routines might involve things like having a bath, putting on pyjamas, brushing teeth, going to the toilet, reading a story and going to sleep. You do these in the same order each day.
Other routines can be weekly or occasional ones. Examples might be going to the park a few times a week, going to playgroup on Tuesdays, or doing the shopping on Wednesdays.
There’s no rule about how many or what kind of routines you should have. What works well for one family might be too strict and structured for another.
Why routines are good for children with disability, autism or other additional needs
An organised and predictable home environment helps children feel safe and secure, including children with disability, autism or other additional needs. Routines can be especially helpful when things are stressful or when children are going through difficult stages or experiences.
Also, if your child with disability needs to take medicine or do other medical procedures regularly, a routine for this will make it easier for everyone to remember.
And family routines can also be a way for your child to develop new skills. For example, if your child has a goal to work on communication skills and taking turns, you could remind them a few times during dinner that it’s their turn to talk about what happened at kindergarten.
If your child has complex needs, you might need to carry out most of their routine care. But your child will still enjoy and benefit from being part of your daily routines.
Routines can be good for you too. They can free up time for you to think about other things and help you feel more organised. You can also use routines to introduce fun family activities like games nights or reading books together. Activities like these are good for relaxed family bonding and togetherness.
What makes a good routine?
Just like typically developing children, some children with disability, autism or other additional needs like and need routine more than others. So the best routines will be the ones that suit you and your child, and that make your daily family life easier.
Effective routines also generally share 3 key features:
- Well planned – good routines are clear, and everyone in the family understands their role and knows what they need to do.
- Regular – good routines become part of everyday family life.
- Predictable – in a good routine, things happen in the same order each time.
By thinking about what your family does regularly, you can set up a routine that reflects how your family works.
Once you have some routines, you can keep things running smoothly by getting together as a family to talk about how the routines are going. This can give you the chance to adjust your routines when and if you need to.
You might need to adjust your routine if your situation changes. What works well for you or your child at one point in time might not be the best at other times. Or you might need to be flexible if your child isn’t well or hasn’t slept well or you go on holiday. Or you might find after a break that you need to bring your routines back in gradually.
If you need to change a routine, you could ask, ‘What’s going wrong? How can we fix it?’ or ‘How can we change this while we’re on holiday?’ Talking through these issues as a family is a good way for children to practise problem-solving skills. Even young children will enjoy brainstorming ideas.
You could also talk with your child’s health professionals about routines for your child. They might be able to help you build learning opportunities into your routines. Other people who care for your child will probably appreciate knowing about your routines too – for example, friends, family or the staff at your child’s early childhood centre.
Helping children with disability, autism or other additional needs follow routines
You can help your child with disability, autism or other additional needs take part in family routines.
It can be as simple as using touch and voice cues – for example, touching your child on the upper arm and using their name to remind them to finish clearing the table.
Social stories can help. They’re simple books made with photos and simple phrases. For example, you could have a story for brushing teeth, which covers when to brush teeth and the steps to follow, like picking up the toothpaste, undoing the cap, putting the toothpaste on the brush and so on.
Visual supports can also help. For example, one for the morning routine might include pictures of getting out of bed, getting dressed, eating breakfast and brushing teeth.
You might like to download an example of a visual aid for going to the toilet.