When you arrive home with the kids after school and work, the first thing you may want to do is relax! Turning on the television for your child, letting her watch a movie, or allowing her to engage in her repetitive behaviors to her heart’s content is very tempting. You have had a long day and rest is probably the first thing you would like to do. Allowing these things just discussed though should be kept to a minimum and used as “earned” activities or used in emergency situations (i.e., when you just can’t take it anymore!).
So, what do you do instead? When do you get “you” time? First, focus on creating structure for your child during these down times. Structure and routine are so important for children with autism. They are important for just about everyone but when it comes to children on the autism spectrum, they really thrive on routine and structure. You establish predictability with structure and routine and it can also help with meltdowns.
Create a visual schedule for your child for the evening routine using printed out photographs which you can Velcro in order to a piece of paper (a laminated paper is best). A child can, by following clear pictures, recognize the order and importance of daily activities. This reduces stress and anxiety because they know what to expect and what will be happening next. For example, you may allow 15 minutes of free play time, then homework, then dinner, then bath/shower, then bedtime routine activities, then bed. It allows your child to see what to expect for the evening and also guides you as the parent, reminding you each evening what the structure should be.
What if your child does not follow visual schedules independently? That’s okay! It may take a few days, or even a few weeks, but after you guide them through the schedule each night, using a timer to signal the end of each activity, and guiding them to take off each picture as it is completed, they will learn to follow the schedule themselves and become independent before you know it.
Final tips: Be sure to include fun things that your child likes on the schedule, not just work activities and boring nightly activities. Sometimes let them choose the activities during certain times (e.g., bedtime routine activities). Lastly, be sure that when your child has successfully completed their schedule and is successfully in bed, do something good for you! Enjoy that piece of cake that’s been sitting in the refrigerator or that glass of wine you’ve been waiting for all week. Watch a movie with your partner. Now it’s you time!