So here’s the thing: conventional wisdom from the sages tells us that autistic kids need routine because it helps regulate daily living for them and minimise anxiety-provoking moments.
However from my experience with Caleb, routines are only good in so far as they involve things he likes! We’ve tried several ways to establish clear routines daily for him, in accordance with said conventional wisdom.
Bottomline: It doesn’t work 80-90% of the time!
Our friend only wants routines where he gets to do what he likes, which these days include make-believe cooking role plays, and not much else! I can’t tell you how many teeny-tiny pieces of rough paper he’s cut and placed all over our house, pretending they are rice or small noodles. Forcing him to include other critical activities (especially school’s daily homework) into a pre-set routine often ends in what feels for me like a tug-of-war.
So to those out there who tell us parents how important it is to build routines into the lives of our autistic kids, I’m telling you to spend just one afternoon in my home and let me know if you still believe it can be done. I mean, c’mon sages, you can’t say on one hand that every child is unique, and on the other hand insist every child (autistic or otherwise) will agree to follow a pre-set routine.
Now let’s be very clear. We discuss beforehand with Caleb the proposed routine, so it’s not exactly us being high-handed or anything. After all, he’s eight now and we have to treat him with a slightly lighter touch when it comes to making decisions for himself as to what to do each day. That’s also part of his maturing.
But what we’ve come to learn is that our dear friend can be quite “chao kuan” (cheater-bug) as the Hokkiens will say. He has no compunction to rescind on his word without even batting an eyelid (although if the reverse happened and we absconded on a promise, you can be sure he’ll take us to court if he could!).
And so the tug-of-war continues. The various tried-and-tested carrot & stick methods continue. We don’t lose heart. We keep trying. We keep praising him when he does follow routines properly (Caleb loves praises), and doing whatever we can to manage him when he resists and goes into his tantrums and melt-downs.
It just needs to come to a point where he himself sees more benefits to following routines than doing his own thing, and then maybe we as parents will start to see the fruits of what conventional wisdom keeps assuring us is the great outcome from following routines for kids: a calm, well-adjusted and happy kid.
But until then….