Managing changes in routine with your child with special needs

Strategies for Handling Adjustments to Your Child’s Routine

Apr 5, 2020

As a general rule, most children tend to be more comfortable with and prefer routine, and this is even more true for children with special needs, including Autism. Kids like to know what’s going to happen and when, and big changes to that routine, such as time off from school, can be stressful and increase anxiety. For children with Autism, major schedule changes can result in increased tantrums and other behaviors that can be difficult to navigate.

As parents, we want to do everything we can to make our kids happy and comfortable, but we know that change happens, and we need to be prepared to help our children adjust. At Innovative Behavior Options, we’ve put together a few strategies you can use at home to help your child navigate changes to their daily routines.

Use Visual Cues

Children with Autism often respond well to and can better process information when it’s delivered visually. At home, create a visual schedule to help your child see what’s going to happen and when. Seeing the day’s schedule ahead of time can help your child feel like they have a little more control.

One way to do this is through picture cards. You can use Velcro to create a daily visual schedule using cards that visually show the day’s activities. If you’re not in the middle of any big change already, one way to start to build a little resiliency is to occasionally include cards that say “Surprise!” or that have a question mark on them to indicate an unannounced activity. Just make sure that some of the surprise activities are particularly appealing to your child.

Some families may already keep a detailed calendar. Take out a pencil and make adjustments to the calendar with your child. Helping to cross an activity off the calendar or seeing its date move can help your child with Autism better understand the change.

Allow Extra Time

When we’re thrown off our schedules, we sometimes need an extra beat to adjust. When planning a new routine or doing something off-schedule, allow a little more time than usual so neither you nor your child feel rushed.

Use Social Stories

Social stories are a powerful way to communicate new concepts to children with Autism. Use social stories to introduce major routine changes and to help answer unasked questions from your child. Be sure to also point out positive parts of the change that may help your child get excited. Just like with bedtime stories, try to end on a positive note.

Create a Calm Down Area

We’ve talked about the value of creating a calm down area in your home in a previous blog, and such a space holds even more value during a time of change. When transition and upended routine become too much, having a safe, comfortable space for your child with Autism to go to process his or her feelings and get the sensory input they crave can help turnaround an impending tantrum. A calm down space doesn’t have to be elaborate or big – a bucket full of the right sensory friendly items in a designated area can be enough. You can learn more about creating a calm down area here.


With any big change, both you and your child may be feeling a little off-balance. Just like with an adult, don’t forget to talk with your child as openly as you can. Validate his or her feelings and experiences. A little extra understanding and encouragement can go a long way.

At Innovative Behavior Options, we’re here to help you and your family process and thrive through change. Please give us a call at 770-250-0093 to learn more about how ABA therapy and strategies can help your child with special needs manage through change.


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