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  • Writer's pictureDanielle James

Routines & Visuals: Part 1

How to stay sane whilst parenting children with autism! Routines and visuals, how they helped to keep a calmer household and trained my children on what was expected.

Personally, I hate having to do the same thing over and over again - I find it soul destroying and as feel as though I am being controlled. I prefer to have a set of tasks I can complete throughout the day in any order and add in spontaneity. However, this does not work for my children - at all, not one bit. I hate the sense of being controlled but they need to know what is going to happen and when. I had to adapt - due to the way my children's brains work, it was impossible for them to change, so I needed too.

How it works

When they were younger, everything was more or less mapped out so they knew what to expect. They hated the idea of any change and this could cause a meltdown. In order to get things done I had visuals around the home, training them what to do for everyday life. As they got older, the routines changed to match their development. I'll walk you through an example, getting ready in the morning (this was everyday regardless if it was school day or weekend):

When we first started (preschool -infants) we used a 'get set go' chart in the morning. This helped us with school runs. There was 2 cars on a race track and each stop they had a task i.e. to wash their face and hands, brush and clean their teeth, get dressed and put PJ's on the bed. I had to help them do these tasks but they enjoyed racing against one another to get downstairs first.

As they got older, it became less of a competition and I used visuals to remind them what to do next in the morning. They were not allowed downstairs until they had completed the tasks. That way, if they became cross I would refer them back to the chart rather than me taking the blame. Yes the visuals got ripped up, this is when i got a laminator. They became easy to replace and then I wasn't stressed about re-making them. Once the tasks were completed, they ate their breakfast. My children have always been motivated by food, so this was now their incentive to get ready.

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Eventually they get to the stage where they remember the routine of what to do and it becomes instinctive.

What are Visuals?

Visuals are pictures or photo's of the task. Depending on your child's understanding will depend on how many visuals are required for them to fulfil the task. I used paper/card backing. I took photo's, used images from the internet or the communication in print package. The communication in print was available to use in our library; unfortunately due to cutbacks, I believe it is only now available in main county libraries.

After they got ready, we used a visual timetable so they knew what was happening and when, throughout the day. School also used this approach and it helped my children to remain calm. The visual timetable (sequence card) was a strip of laminated card with velcro across the back. We then used pictures, (with velcro across the back) so they could see the order of the day or the order till lunchtime and then we would change the card for the afternoon/evening. Giving them order and structure helped to relieve their anxieties about what the day would hold.

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As they became older, writing down the days routine was enough until eventually they understood and now we can discuss this verbally.


It was very alien to me but my children found the prospect of a big empty day overwhelming. I have social imagination skills which allow me to predict how events may turn out when I face new situations. I can pick up on social cues, I know when someone is getting fed up/angry/happy/excited etc by their body language and I know how to respond. I think that being in a world where everyone instinctively knows whats happening and whats expected from them and they don't, is scary. I could understand why this caused so much anxiety and fear. I learned why they did not instinctively pick up on things, yet excelled in other areas. They were not being difficult, their brain works in a different way. This is why I could sacrifice my way of doing things, for theirs. I love them and I don't want to cause the people I love to be overwhelmed with anxiety. For more information on what is autism, please click here.

The visuals are used to back the routine. Children with autism are visual learners, so communicating in visuals helps them to understand better than verbal communication. Routines are their safety net and help them to understand this complex world. When we first started, my son hated the visuals - he hates change and prefers doing things his way - but now I was sure he understood what was being asked, I persevered through this change and he accepted it. I knew he would benefit from this and that it was a matter of being consistent (another thing I hated but grew in). It did help him to get into a good routine. We used routines and visuals for all the children. I didn't want a complicated parenting regime for different children. We used one routine for all and it worked for all of us.

The next blog post will look at First and Then visuals, Reward Charts, Training and Discipline methods.

If you enjoyed this post on parenting children with autism, then you may like;

How to handle onlookers when your autistic child is struggling

My top 5 happy Autism moments

What not to and what to say to an autism mum

How to get the right autism school

Autism diagnosis round 2

#purposefilledstories #hope #autism #autistic #parenting #routines #visuals

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