Keeping Morning Routines Consistent for Children with Autism

Even amid a global pandemic, if you have a child on the autism spectrum, keeping their life as consistent as possible is essential in helping them function and thrive.

My 5 year old son and has ASD and ADHD. I have discovered that for us, a good day depends on a good morning. Our morning routine has evolved over time, but we work diligently to keep it consistent with a little flexibility on the weekends. 

Currently, he attends ABA therapy Monday-Friday. Fortunately, at his center, he is only 1 of 2 clients, and he is with one therapist. For this reason, we have continued ABA during the pandemic and feel reasonably safe doing so.

Getting out of the door used to be a huge challenge. I think for most parents getting any child out the door happily and on time is a challenge! But if you follow a consistent routine that includes accommodations for what works specifically for your child, your mornings can run more smoothly.

Our Morning Routine

Step 1 – Waking Up

If my son doesn’t wake up on his own, we wake him up by 8:30 am. He changes out of his pajamas into what he calls his “cozy clothes,” which is a T-shirt and athletic shorts. Early on, I started having him wear a “uniform” of khakis and a polo anytime he would go to preschool or any therapy or doctor appointments, and the “cozy clothes” were for at home. This helped him to understand what he was going to be doing just by what he was wearing. It also minimized non-compliance over things like wanting to wear the same favorite t-shirt each day because it just isn’t an option.

Step 2 – Morning Medication

After he’s in his cozy clothes, we give him his medicine. He takes several medications; one is a pill and one a liquid. I crush the pill and combine them both in a small bottle mixed with a little juice, and he drinks it with a straw. I often use the Premack principle at this time which is a strategy where you pair a non-preferred activity with a highly preferred activity using First/Then. I will say, “First, take your medicine, then you can have your iPad.” This is usually successful because use of the iPad is highly motivating.

Step 3 – Breakfast

After he gets the iPad, I give him his breakfast, which is a mixture of half Pediasure, half milk, and sometimes a small bowl of dry cereal. He isn’t very hungry in the morning, and this is about all we can get him to consume before his day starts. He will have a snack later when he arrives at ABA.

Step 4 – Departure Prep

Brushing Teeth

About 15 minutes before our 9:15 am departure, we set a 2-minute timer and tell him he will need to brush his teeth when it goes off. When the timer rings, I say, “Time to brush teeth. Do you want Mommy to pause the iPad or you pause it?” This is important because I have set up the expectation that his teeth will be brushed; there is no other option, but I have given him the ability to decide who pauses the IPad. Even a simple choice can help make a transition go more smoothly.

Changing Clothes and Getting into the Car

After teeth brushing, we set another 2-minute timer and tell him he will need to change into his ABA clothes when it goes off. After he changes clothes, we set another 2-minute timer before he transitions into the car. The use of the timer may seem redundant, but for him, it is essential during most transitions. Before we started using timers for transitions, he would often engage in maladaptive behaviors such as tantrums or aggression. The use of timers has nearly eliminated those behaviors, and he usually happily complies.

Weekend Modifications

On weekends we use a modified version of the routine. Everything remains the same until we get to the 2-minute timer to change clothes. Because we are staying home, he keeps his cozy clothes on. This has helped him differentiate between weekdays and weekends. Even back in March, when we were distance learning with his preschool (and more than likely what we will be doing this fall) I still had him change into his khakis and polo for “Mom School.”

Visual Schedule Option

About a year ago, this routine looked very different. We used to use a visual schedule with him. However, as he got older, developed better communication skills, and memorized his morning routine, he was been able to graduate from that. But if you are just starting to develop a consistent morning routine with your child a visual schedule is a great place to start.

5 Tips for Morning Routines

Here is a list of suggestions that may help your mornings with your child run more smoothly.

  1. Consistent wake time.
  2. Consistent clothing for different settings.
  3. Consistent order in which morning activities are completed.
  4. Use of visual schedules, timers, Premack principle, and/or simple choices to encourage compliance and smooth transitions.
  5. Keep routine as consistent as possible, even on weekends.

Benefits of Consistent Routines

Children on the autism spectrum thrive in a predictable environment where they know what to expect. When you use consistent routines, and they learn them, you will not only save time in the mornings, but their behavior will improve, and this will help create more positive experiences for the entire family.

Autism, it’s never the same day twice, but don’t disrupt the routine. – Author Unknown

Published by

Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.

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