Autism: Creating Routines

M.G. McIntosh




  • Voice in the Wind Magazine Inc.


Are you learning to care for someone with Autism? Maybe you have Autism and are struggling to adapt to an ever-changing world around you? Maybe you’re wondering why some people with Autism have more trouble with changing routines than others? Well, maybe I can help. When forming routines the number one question to ask is this: If I can’t change could my routines do the changing for me? The answer is yes. You can build routines that are designed for change and designed to adapt. If you build your routines correctly, it’s like adding shock absorbers to a car: the routine takes the bumps for you and you get cushioned. That means fewer panic attacks.


So how do you do this? Simply put – design your routine in the bigger picture. Your routine should be based on general scenarios, not specific situations. There are too many ways that things can change to keep up with them all. Let’s take ‘getting the bus’ as an example.


When designing a routine for ‘getting the bus’, many first time parents and caregivers fall into the same trap: ‘getting the bus’ is too narrow a scope for a healthy, adaptable routine. What if it’s not a bus today? What if it’s a taxi? What if it’s a city bus and not the school bus? What if it’s a coach? A plane? A train? Or something not yet commercialized and on the market, like a hovercraft? Could a transportation routine fill the need better? See how I created an umbrella (category) for it? That’s the trick. Thinking bigger, but not too big. Just enough to allow for change. So how would this routine look?


This type of routine would look something like this: 

  1. Research – 
    1. Gather your resources – where do I even find this information? A library? The internet? Information Center? A trade/industry/specialty magazine, book or other source?
    2. Find out what transportation is even available in the area. Not all places offer a full range of services. 
    3. I need to know when and where to find a mode of transportation. I need a schedule, guide book or reference. Remember, we want the routine to adapt, not us, so it’s important to simply think of it as ‘transportation’ – after all we may not get a choice, some areas have limited services.
  2. Money – I need to know that I can pay for ‘the service’. Again, I think more generically, in case I end up getting a ride with a friend – in which case I’m offering to pay for gas. This allows me to keep to the routine even when the situation changes. 
  3. My ‘wallet’ –  I think of it like a cash register. The main compartment is divided into two parts: front and back with a loose flap between them (see Picture, below). It’s where you put your dollar bills. I treat one half as a ‘float’ or slush fund, the other is my spending money. Like a cash register, you should start your day (or week) with a float. This is money for an emergency. The rest you can spend. Note: If you have a job where you earn cash tips keep it separate. DO NOT USE YOUR PERSONAL WALLET! (Just in case neurotypicals think you’re stealing!) It’s probably best to ask someone you know (like a parent or sibling) how they would handle this type of job. There are products you can buy that might be more suitable for it (like a money clip). Just be careful to do your homework – know how you’re expected to handle cash at work.
  4. Ticket – to get on the bus/train etc.

You get the idea. The routine can adapt so you don’t have to. Research could apply to any method of transportation – even new ones. Your cash float can go up and down in amount depending on your current needs. The routine itself flexes. It’s adaptable. It may not work for everyone, and you may want to organize it differently (cash purchases, prepaid purchases if you want to use payment method as your umbrella) but once you find what you’re comfortable with, it will lessen the frequency of panic attacks and ‘meltdowns’. (I hate that term – it makes innocent people sound like an overloaded reactor. It gives other people the impression they should run away, when really, the synaesthesia should be addressed and managed. We need compassion and support – not panic and avoidance. I mean – really? Like, what the hell?)


Pictured here is a wallet – the top part shows the divider – it’s where you put your dollar bills.


I hope this was actually helpful. I’m doing my best to pass on wisdom that has helped me and made it possible for me to live more normally. And hey, if you or someone you know has Autism, you got this.


Phone: 403-497-WIND (9463)

Twitter: @VoiceInTheWind3


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