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Schedules, Routines, and Expectations, OH MY

Kids thrive on routines. It is true. You know this from infanthood. All the doctors and parents before told you while you were pregnant that getting that new bundle on a routine would be crucial to sanity. What no one told you is that if you have a neurodivergent child, that routine would be more critical than anyone could have guessed. And, that telling your child about changes in the routine would lead to understanding and success. Failing to tell them, though, would lead to massive meltdowns.

I didn't realize how very true this was until my second child was a young toddler. He couldn't process or ask questions about routines and schedules and expectations. Will had massive meltdowns everytime something changed in his world. Dropping him off in the church nursery was a nightmare. Picking him up was too. I didn't know it was because it was change. He loved playing in the nursery. But dropping him off there meant that his status quo had changed. I was his favorite person. But my picking him up from nursery meant status quo had changed again. We started avoiding stores because he would throw himself on the ground when leaving them because he wasn't ready to transition, but couldn't communicate that. He was non-verbal until around age four.

Fast forward to elementary school age. We knew Will wouldn't fair well in traditional school and had already decided to homeschool Rory, our oldest. It was logical to follow suit with Will. Initially, he enjoyed school activities. Gradually, he became resistant, though. I took a long time to figure out why. He could talk, but he couldn't really tell me the issue. I tried to convince him. I tried changing up the routine and activities. That went really poorly. Unexpected changes were triggering to him. He couldn't process what was happening in his world when we suddenly changed it.

Finally, I wrote a schedule and we checked off boxes. He thrived again. I consistently forgot that I needed to update the schedule when changes happened. He returned to meltdowns because I hadn't updated the schedule when our lives changed. He still expected certain things to happen at certain times and they weren't. When I finally realized the problem, I fixed it and he was happy again. Now, he can tell me when there is a problem with expectations and I remember that he needs advance notice of changes. Sometimes, in writing.

Will's autism diagnosis helps me understand how his brain functions differently. His brain needs lists and check marks. His adherence to routine and struggles with changes are part of his autism.

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