Tag Archives | routine

Starting the School Year When Your Child Has Autism

This post is assuming that your child has Aspergers or HFA level symptoms and thus, capable and “ready” for school.

The whole school process is a struggle enough. Parents have so much to get ready…. supplies, paperwork, transportation and more. Then you have the child who’s going to be heading out into the world, for the first time on their own, to fend for themselves.

It’s nerve wracking. It’s scary. It’s tiring.

On top of all of that, your child has Autism? This is a recipe for disaster if not prepared for in advance.

I don’t have all the answers, I’m just a guy trying to get my own kids through it but I can share with you some of the things that we’ve done. Maybe some of it will be new to you, maybe you’ll have much better ideas than I do (and please do share them in the comments!)

schoolFirst Year

If this is your child’s first year of school, you’re going to have to do a lot of preparation in advance. This doesn’t start a few months before or even a year before… this should start as early as possible.

  • seated learning time (counting, alphabet, shapes)
  • scheduled snacks/lunches as per strict routine
  • scheduled play time
  • play with others. Whether that means playing “next to” another child or what have you.
  • play groups would be ideal. Learning how to cope in a room with other children

Obviously this isn’t going to be fundamental or even strict for the first little while but as you approach that all important first day of school, it should become more and more a part of the regular routine.

A good idea to get your child ready is to visit the school and the teacher in advance and find out what some of the routines will be.
Also, listen for keywords because they may refer to certain things differently than you would at home.
For example, my son’s school has “nutrition breaks” rather than “lunch”

As part of your build up routine, have your child get up at the same time every day, get dressed, teeth brushed, breakfast in and everything before 8am or 8:30am.

I know that most of those things are a challenge on a good day but the more it becomes a part of the routine, the better it will go over time. It’s far better to struggle BEFORE school than when school actually does start.

Back to School

So your child has been to school already and is just finishing their summer vacation. That’s fine, a lot of the same rules will apply except that your child is likely a bit older which may mean having to rebuild some routines.

For example, your child’s bed time may have been pushed a little later since the sun doesn’t go down as early. Your child may even be waking up later as a result.

Going out to the park, swimming, sitting around and playing video games…. all of these things disrupt the routine and even though they know full well what to expect at school, they may still find it a huge challenge to cope.

About 2 weeks before going back to school, start to ease their bedtime back to it’s regular time. Not at all once but a bit by bit.

The week before school, go back to your school routine. Waking up at a certain time, going to bed at bed time… and everything else becomes school mode.

Get them dressed, fed, cleaned and even pack their lunches in the morning.

To make it fun, use that packed lunch as an excuse for some last chance trips to the park or the lake or what have you. Let them do their lunches as they would at school… meaning, no help (or not much) from you.

This helps them to get back into school mode.

The Best Thing You Can Do Is Not Be A Parent

I know, you just want to enjoy every last minute and make them as happy as possible for every last minute of freedom they have.

But that does very little to prepare them for what is to come.

And there’s no saying that the preparation can’t be fun. You just have to be creative. As I said earlier, go on picnics… give them rewards for a job well done.

Preparation is key, I’ve found. My wife is a master at it and really, this post is just notes as I tag along with her awesome planning.

The only way you can discover, recognize and avoid as many potential pitfalls and issues as possible in advance is to start before the fact. Treat the week before (or even 2 weeks before) as if they were school days so that you can hash out any problems or find out what will become problems before you have to deal with it for real.

That way, failed mornings don’t jeopardize an actual school day. It’s far better that you try to recover at home, where your child is comfortable, than at school where they really don’t want to be.

I’m sure your child’s teacher would appreciate it!

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Summer routine? What summer routine?

routineThe school year seems pretty crazy while you’re going through it… assemblies, meetings, field trips… but in reality, it is such a wonderful base for all routines. Up at the same time, in bed at the same time, eat at the same time, on and off the bus at the same time… it’s perfect. Well, as close to perfect as you might get.

Then the school year is over and summer time attacks your routine like a lion attacking red meat. The sun is up earlier, the sun goes down later, meals are rarely when they should be, you wake up and go to bed at different times daily and worst of all, you have no clue what day it is!

It’s strange too, because I do work Monday to Friday and yet I still find myself having no clue what day of the week it is most of the time.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, when you have a child with Autism, it is a very big deal. Routine is paramount to keep the meltdowns in check.

What happens is so gradual that you may not even notice it happening until it’s too late and very likely, you won’t put the two together as a cause and effect situation… but in time, your child will start to become more agitated, more prone to meltdowns, less likely to eat, less likely to sleep and more.

Missing out on your routine one day might not have much of an effect on the next day but over time, you will likely find yourself asking yourself why your child is misbehaving so much despite your best efforts to give them fun stuff to do.

So what can you do?

Well, there are a few things that can help with this.

  • Camp – Many children go off to summer camp for at least a part of the summer. Camp is a great place for routines as well as keeping your little ones occupied. Specialty camps are available almost everywhere for special needs children now too.
  • New Routine – So you wake up later, stay out later and eat later… so make it a new routine. Just make sure that the times you set are the times you stick to. Also, keep in mind that school will be starting again before you know it so before it’s too late, you’ll have to start adjusting those new routines back a bit to meet back up with the old school routine again.
  • Alarm clocks – Notice it’s plural? If you want to keep your bed time routine the same as well as the wake up routine… set 2 alarm clocks. One for the time you wish to wake up and one for the time you want the kids in bed. The one for waking up should almost never ring since your children will wake up at their regular times anyway but for those times when you do fireworks or camp fires.. your little ones might be up late. And it’ll be painful to wake them up rather than let them get the sleep they need but that regular wake up time makes for a regular bed time later that day.
  • Strict planning – A big part of routines falling apart in the summer is that you’re rarely home. The beach, park, camp and other places seem to eat the time up faster than you can keep track. And you’ll seem like the downer of the group for keeping an eye on the clock (watch, cell phone) but getting the lunches right at lunch time, the dinners right at dinner time and so one are very important. You don’t have to be home to get things done at the right time.
  • Sacrifices – Sometimes, sacrifices can be made. For example, my boys are still a bit young for fireworks. They do love fireworks, mind you, but it’s not a priority. For Canada Day, we spent the entire day at the beach, water park, playground and with friends. They were ready for bed long before it was dark enough for fireworks. Did they miss out? Maybe on the fireworks but on the day? Hardly. They loved every second of it. My wife and I were the ones who made the sacrifice. We’re the ones who missed out but you know what? It was worth it.

Depending on your child, routines have to be strict or relaxed or, if you’re one of the lucky ones, are not all that important at all.

If it is important to you and your child, if you’ve had a good routine for most of the year, you may want to consider it into the summer as well because as I said, things might start going south and you won’t even realize why until it’s too late.

A routine is much more difficult to fix than it is to maintain.

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The simple request my son made that I’ll never forget

My son had a really rough night last night, and tough day today as well with the flu. I’ll spare you the gory details, let’s just say that we didn’t get much sleep and he didn’t eat anything today.

As the day unfolded, I continually went over in my head the next blog post that I would make about how he has never been the “sucky” type when sick, quite the contrary. He tends to just shut down, get mellow and do nothing all day. Sometimes we don’t even know he’s sick except that he’s not doing anything.

But as I prepared my boys for bed, something trumped all of that. The hours and hours I had been writing and rewriting in my head were gone in an instant and replaced with what I am writing right now. I was that surprised by it.

I am one of the very fortunate parents that does get regular hugs and kisses from his children, even though one of them has Autism. Rather than what you would call a “regular” hug and kiss though, I get them in patterns. I wrote about it here. This has become a part of our nightly routine… get them a small glass of chocolate soy milk, read a story or watch a later episode of Cat in the Hat and then off to bed, hugs, kisses and goodnight.

Tonight, because Cameron has the flu, I had to say no. Cameron stood up in his bed and said “don’t forget hugs and kisses!” and I had to say no.. not tonight. It’s most likely that he’s shared it with the family already but it’s still not wise to take the chance so I had to tell him that being sick means getting no hugs and kisses.

His arms dropped to his sides and he said “can I touch you? please? hold my hand?”

At that moment, anything else I had planned to write faded away. I had to write about this. But I never did come up with adequate words to express exactly how hearing those words made me feel.

Honestly… I had no idea just how important that was to him. For all the parents out there that seldom or even never get that kind of physical contact, here was my son pleading with me to not be denied it.

I took his hand, told him make sure he doesn’t breath on me… and pulled him up for a giant sized bear hug.

Flu or not. I’ll never deny him a hug again.

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He has become self aware

Ok so my son isn’t a robot, but he does have some challenges that differ him from many other children, namely, Autism.

My two boys share the same bedroom which presents certain problems around bedtime. They tend to talk or play rather than go to sleep. This can be a bit of a problem when Cameron has school the next day. Like all children, he needs his sleep, but as a child with Autism, he needs it that much more or else his stimming and meltdown tendencies may become much more evident the next day.

In the past, I’ve separated them by putting one boy in my bed (mom’s bed, as they call it). I alternate between the boys so that they feel it’s fair but really, this is not the best solution. We can’t keep doing this until they get separate rooms, can we? What if I want to go to bed early?

Finally, one night, I decided to take on the discipline route… putting X’s on their behaviour chart, threatening to take something away. Finally, after being awake 2 hours later than their bed time (this was not a school night so I wasn’t hugely worried)… I said “that’s it… no video games and no television all day tomorrow!”

Sadly, this sounds like more of a punishment for my wife and I but ultimately it was a good thing. They needed a reminder that they have a lot of things they can do besides video games and television anyway, and it is also what would hurt the most.

So the entire next day, they moped around but found other things to do as they were supposed to. They even got a treat just before bed, since they handled their day so well, they got to watch Cat in the Hat on tv for 30 mins before bed.

The next day things were back to normal, and come bed time, I asked Cameron “Do you want to sleep in your bed tonight? Remember though, if you talk and play instead of going to sleep, you get no video games or tv tomorrow.”

Cameron thought about it for a little while, like… really thought about it… and said “uhmm… maybe I can sleep in mom’s bed tonight?”

Wow. Did he seriously just figure that one out on his own? I mean, he must have realized that in his room, he would be far too tempted to talk and play. In all that serious thinking he did, he must have realized that if he was in his bed, there’s no way he’d be able to resist the temptation to play.

Rather than risk it, he opted for the separation right from the start. Not just opted for it, but suggested it. I didn’t even include that as an option in my question.. I implied that it was an option by asking, but didn’t make it an option for a very specific reason.

The reason I titled this article “He has become self aware” is because this has been a big focus for me… to have him recognize upcoming hazards and avoid them by suggesting something better. Stop and think about your own child that has Autism and question how often this happens.. it’s really not an easy thing to do when your mind is so focused on the “here and now”.

As with many things in my blog, this is only a first step and certainly not going to dictate his actions/thoughts for his life but this is a great first step, I think. He’s become aware of his limitations and suggested a course of action to get the results he desires.

Good job Cameron!

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A Comfortable Rut

Even if you had never heard of such a thing before, I’m sure you can identify with what it is. A comfortable rut is a period of your life where things are just easier to keep doing them as you did the day before, rather than make a disturbance that would be deemed uncomfortable even if it means moving forward.

The most popular of these would be diets, or lack of exercise… or both. Basically you get into the habit of eating the foods you like, you can’t find the time to exercise and eventually it’s just easier to just gain weight even though you don’t want to.

In the case of parenting a child with Autism, it’s a very very easy rut to settle into.

What happens is that you try various diets, various programs, therapies, routines and everything else until eventually something seems to work… something starts to show results and in a little while, it becomes comfortable.

And a few months later you start to realize that your child has been eating the same 4 things every day because it’s just easier than fighting or dealing with the issues that come from not eating. You just start getting used to sleeping at certain times and not sleeping at others. You start dressing your child in the same 3 or 4 outfits (if you’re lucky) because it’s less of a fight to put it on them.

A comfortable rut is exactly what your child with Autism is looking for. We can’t confuse this with a routine. A comfortable rut is what your Autistic child wants, a routine is what they need.

What is the difference between a routine and a comfortable rut?

Well, a comfortable rut sees no progress. There’s no moving forward. For example, instead of trying new foods or dietary supplements or pushing your child to break boundaries, you just keep feeding them the same old thing.

A routine involves doing the same things at the same time but can still be a push forward. For example, when eating with Cameron, we eat at the same time, and he generally eats the same meals but, each day we get him to try something new. Even if it’s just a bite or just a nibble, he tries it. Some things he’s liked, such as combining his cheese and gluten free crackers. Others, like fish… he did not like.

That’s progress while still being in the same routine.

Cameron would prefer to wear the same two Super Mario shirts every day for ever if we let him, which would make for a comfortable rut indeed. Instead, we dress him similar yet different shirts… nothing that will irritate his sensory sensitive skin too much but something that will be less than the most comfortable thing he could wear.

You’ve all heard the motivation speeches, the leaders talk and the get rich guys go on and on… push your personal boundaries if you wish to become more than you are! Well, why wouldn’t it be the same with your kids, especially if Autistic?

If you want your child to get out into the world and be independent, whether your child is very severe on the spectrum or very high, you must push their boundaries if they won’t do it for themselves.

I know, it’s really easier said than done in most cases but I never said it would be easy.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of it or anything because your doctors/therapists will likely be able to help you more than I could if they’ve worked with you before. Moving forward doesn’t mean you stop what you’re doing now, it doesn’t mean breaking from routine… it just means getting out of that comfortable rut and doing it!

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