Why routine is important to us and why we purposely break it

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I used to wonder if routine really worked when we first found out she was autistic. I remember the consultant, speech therapist and even nursery teacher all saying “Routine is key”. To me I was thinking what a boring life that would give her as I didn’t know or appreciate how bigger part of her life routine would become. They all told us to start small, meals at certain times and bath at certain time and so on, gradually introducing other things that were daily life. In time we created a daily planner board so we could add ‘extras’, you know the things that don’t happen daily but need to be seen as happening. Eliza is a very visual child, she likes to see (and memorize) what is happening in her life. When she gets a new timetable for school, she knows it lesson by lesson after a couple of days. Handy for the days that I forget what we are doing but she doesn’t and announces things like “Mummy, it’s swimming today”. Yes, my 6 year old has a better memory than I do!

Yesterday I had a phone call from school mid morning. Eliza had an upset tummy and had had diarrhea so, as per school rules, she needed collecting and has to be off for 48hrs minimum as a precaution. I popped Noah in the car and went to fetch her, checking in at reception to wait for her. The school nurse appeared and asked if I could go to class and collect Eliza as Eliza was refusing to leave class. So off we went, and as I entered the class room I was met with a ‘What you doing here’ look from Eliza and her not so subtle “Goodbye Mummy, see you later” announcement. She wasn’t being rude, she was in her right to say I needed to go because Mummy is never at school unless invited to class events likes sports day. She was confused as to why I was there. This was school, this was her thing and I was not supposed to be there. I had not been invited!! I got down on my knees to her level and asked her to come home, she refused. I explained in basic words that her tummy was poorly and needed a rest at home, she refused. I said I had found the ‘lost’ DS games (They do get ‘lost’ now and again if you catch my drift). That swung it and she got up and fetched her bag and we came home.

When we got home she didn’t want the DS, she wanted to get her sensory fiddle toys out so she did. I had pulled her from school in the middle of ‘Tac Pac’, a sensory programme. She then insisted on eating her lunch that was in her school bag because that is what she would have done. I asked her to get changed out of uniform and she became upset and told me “No, we go back to school now”. I said school had finished for the day and asked her what she wanted to do “Swimming time” was her answer because that is what she would have done in the afternoon. She got teary when I said swimming was not an option because of her tummy. So instead we got a blanket on the floor and pretended it was water, we pretended to swim and she giggled and smiled. When we reached about half past three in the afternoon, she stripped out of her uniform and fetched her pyjamas and asked for a juice and a biscuit. This is her usual routine when she gets home at around that time. She has an hour on her computer whilst I cook dinner so off she went and switched it on and she was calm and relaxed, no more tears and tension because she had some how made it through the day that I interrupted by bringing her home and now ‘normal’ had resumed for her. Even though she was confused and upset, she coped and we got through it by almost mirroring what she would have done in school so she had some sense of ‘normal’ in her day and it made sense to her.

It might seem small and pointless to some, but breaking a routine can cause huge meltdowns, stress, anxiety, upset and anger. That fear of the unknown, unplanned and unprepared takes over and any sense of calm and reasoning just disappears. Two years ago she would have had to be carried out of class screaming and crying because she would not have coped with such a change that was not planned. It is something we work on at home and at school. At school there are things that you can not plan for – snow day, fire alarm or unexpected sickness. There are times at home that I throw in unexpected plans in to her day because they will happen in everyday life as she grows older. Not everything can be planned for so I push her boundaries and comfort zones. I make her try new things like horse therapy or ballet knowing it will trigger feelings of anxiety, stress, anger but also knowing in my head and heart that she is capable of change and can cope when given the right support and understanding. Routine is important in so many ways but so it breaking it sometimes.

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Author: Julie Clarke

Mum to 2 children - Eliza diagnosed ASD at age 3. Younger Sibling, Noah. I run a Facebook page called 'Living with Blooming Autism'.

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