ORIGINALLY POSTED: APRIL 4, 2012
April 4th: Autism has taught me the importance of making a schedule and the need to stick to it.
My daughter has grown to be slightly more flexible in the past year or so. That said, their is a real importance to maintain a schedule when you have a child with autism. Most kids thrive on routine, but when you have a child with autism a slight variation of the plan can cause horrendous meltdowns. For K, she does really well at school. The routine is pretty rigid at school and is posted on the wall for her to reference throughout the day. Since she learned to tell time, last summer, it has become easier for her to follow a schedule and set allotments of time for her to complete activities at home. The problems arise with school breaks. Most states have Spring Break, but here in Tennessee, we also have a Fall Break. A useless week in mid-October where the kids don’t have to go to school. Since the first few days of either break are a weekend anyway, those aren’t the problem. Monday morning rolls around and the gates of Hell may as well have swallowed my living room. Monday is a school day, thus requiring K to go to school. She doesn’t understand why there is no school, this creates anxiety and fear which in turn leads to tantrums and meltdowns. Her being home has consequences most people would never understand. Her being home sends my sons schedule into chaos, and their tantrums feed one another. It’s complete anarchy around here. It has gotten easier as I have learned to adapt our home programs to fit a schedule when she’s home and unable to go to school. For instance, Spring Break 2011, I took her and LJ (my son) to activities around Ft Lee (where we were then stationed). We went to crafts at the Library, playgroups at the ASYMCA, and a story hour and craft at the Memorial Chapel. She had a good time, and it create a pseudo-schedule for her to follow. This allowed her anxiety to subside a bit and allow her to have fun. Another problem arises shortly after the restoration of the schedule. Usually for the week the schedule is messed up, and the first week back on a routine, she’s a hot mess. Her anxiety levels are high, her body is tense, and she’s often much easier to upset. Her brother knows all the little things that upset her and because he’s in a mood from his schedule being off, he uses them and with much frequency. He can be the typical little brother through and through.
We use a supplemental homeschool approach at our house. K does go to a public elementary school were at 4 she started Kindergarten a whole year early. However, when we PCS’d (Army move) last year it was an interesting transition. She went from half day Kindergarten in California, to full day Kindergarten in Virginia. She did well with that transition. The problem was the education system. We already had more than a dozen workbooks ranging from pre-K through second grade that we used to teach K anything she wants to learn. When we moved to Virginia, we had to start supplementing the work she was receiving from her school. The teachers didn’t know what a 4 year old would be capable of, and didn’t even try to find out. She was already reading chapter books with me and my husband at home. She was doing simple addition and subtraction at home, but for homework, she was bringing home connect-the-dot worksheets that only went to the number 8. So I bought more workbooks. We would do the menial assignments she was given by her teachers, and then we would pick a book, math, science, geography, language, whatever she wanted to learn that afternoon, and we would work. This past summer, in an effort to keep her on a schedule as we moved (yet again), I asked her what she wanted to learn over the summer. My daughter, who had just turned 5, wanted to learn to tell time and count money. We used this to set up schedules and routines through the summer and by the start of the first grade she could both tell time and count money. We continue to supplement her homework with workbooks on the weekend to maintain a schedule for her. We’ve had to establish meal schedules for the weekends because at school she eats lunch at 11:36am, and we’ve had big problems with this on the weekends when we typically eat a slightly later breakfast. 12:36pm. That was the compromise, and believe me when I tell you, she watches the clock like a hawk watches a field mouse. At 7:00pm, every day we must be at home and getting ready for bed. She cries “Oh I’ll never see my bed again.” repeatedly if we aren’t home yet. Sometimes we are able to keep her from knowing the time and are able to fudge fifteen minutes here or there to keep her from having a time related meltdown, but not always, especially not when she’s wearing one of her watches. (She has two or three, along with the 12 clocks she has in her room. She’s a big fan of time.)
Making schedules may seem easy but it’s not always possible to keep to them, especially with two kids and a husband in the Army. It’s up to me to make sure everyone is as comfortable as they can be. We are teaching her flexibility in small doses. She prefers to go to certain stores at the mall and in a certain order. By not doing this every time we go, we are slowly teaching that things can be done in other orders and don’t have to be done the same way every time. There are some things in this world, you never thought you’d have to teach and others you have to learn to teach as much as they have to learn the concept.