Routine Disruptions in Children With Autism

I recently read a quote, “It’s never the same day twice, but don’t dare change the routine!” If you are the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I am sure you can relate!

My son is six years old and has ADHD and ASD. Routines for daily activities are essential around our home, and when something disrupts one of his daily routines, the fallout can be significant.

While we do work to help him adapt to disruptions, we do very selectively, not typically in routines he relies on daily such as morning and especially evening routines.

Recently his hairstylist, who fortunately does at-home visits, was here for his monthly haircut. By the time she was done, itchy hair covered his entire body due to all his wiggling. He asked for a shower which I obliged. I was pleased because now he wouldn’t need a shower before bed. I should have known better!

Later that evening, my husband had to meet some work colleagues, so the evening routine was all on me. My son and I had dinner and played some games together. Again, I was thrilled, remembering my evening wouldn’t involve having to coerce him into the shower. So we played right up to his bedtime. I set the timer (our tried and true transition tool) and said, “Okay, in two minutes, time for pajamas and story!”

He instantly counter-attacked with, “No, first shower!”

I should have adapted, but a shower at this time of the evening would put his bedtime easily off by 45 minutes (it’s a long process.) So I stood with my original demand and said, “No, you already had a shower. Time for bed.”

He was so upset by this change in his routine, and it was 100% my fault. I should have scheduled time for his evening shower that he relies on to wind down before sleep. I should have kept his routine consistent rather than making things easier for me because in hindsight my oversight made it worse on us both.

Eventually, he complied, we read a story, and he climbed into bed. As I was walking out the door, I turned on his moon nightlight. He said, “No moon nightlight, Mommy. Daddy turns it on.” I completely understood.

I turned the moon nightlight off, shut his door, smiled, and thought to myself, “It’s never the same day twice. But don’t dare change the routine!”

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.