One of the primary diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5), is that the individual shows restricted, repetitive pattern of behaviour, interests, or activities.
The key items of evidence to support the diagnosis is an insistence on same and inflexible adherence to routines which can be extended down to minute details with aspects like placement of toys, silverware, or bath towels or into types of food available at certain meals and in the order in which they may be eaten or the exact words and even tone of voice used in a bedtime story.
Social media posts have numerous queries from anxious, loving parents who have been baffled with multiple resources and medication news that floods websites including intervention strategies from various educational websites. While some offer therapy classes, others offer teaching interventions. However, the point missed in these therapies and education solutions is the need for structure. In one of the post threads hosted by an eminent child educator a mother of an adult on the spectrum mentioned how, when her daughter was a child, the structure had been crucial in helping her to learn flexibility. Sounds like an oxymoron, isn’t it?
Why is Structure and Routine important?
To understand this better and the part played by all the responsible adults around a child, first, we need to understand the legal framework that governs the education management of a child.
In the offerings of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) as well as Rights to Education (Article 26) drafted by the United Nations, 1948, guides that all member countries should provide equal access to education for all children irrespective of their nature of disabilities. This act allows all children, including children with autism to be a part of an inclusive educational setting in any schools throughout the globe. However, it is important that parents do understand and acknowledge what solution and teaching environment may work best for their child before selecting a school that claims to provide inclusive education. The access arrangement is an important part of learning for children with autism. The availability of therapists, accommodations in the classroom including support teacher, teaching software, quiet place, visual timetables, peer buddy, set routine, option for a smaller number of subjects in the higher classes are some of the examples for inclusive education resources in a school.
Whether the child is home-schooled or in regular school, structure plays an important part in the child’s education set-up. They are important for everyone. But when it comes to children on the autism spectrum, they tend to thrive with routine and structure even to a much greater extent compared to the rest of the population.
For a child with Autism, regular schedules provide the day with a structure that orders a young child’s world. Although predictability can be tiresome for adults, children thrive on repetition and routine. Schedules begin from the first days of life. Babies, especially, need regular sleep and meal programs and even routines leading up to those activities.
One of the best ways to establish and set up a functional routine is by using visual schedules. Something as simple, or as expansive, as using a homemade PECS binder can help a child with autism. For that matter, even, if you are starting off with something simple like my daily routine printable or using something a little bit more involved like my daily routine card pack, setting up a visual schedule, is easier than you think.
Having routine and structure reduces anxiety as it (hopefully) makes life a little bit more predictable. And while it’s difficult to completely to plan everything, at least with having visual schedules and routines in place; you can help your child manage the anxiety. This will equip your child to communicate, to navigate the environment around them, and you are adapting the environment for their needs. Not the other way around. A visual schedule is empowering and freeing as it changes things for the child for better.