COVID-19: Consistent Routines and Schedules are Comforting in Challenging Times

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused; COVID-19 Topics

By Whitney L. Kleinert, Ph.D., LP, LABA, BCBA-D

Make a Schedule                                                 
Having routines disrupted can be very stressful for everyone in the family, especially children. Making a schedule can help provide the consistency that people need during difficult times…and during not-so-difficult times as well! I would recommend having a larger scale calendar (e.g., week / month) and also a daily schedule. Your child should have a schedule that is appropriate for them. If it’s too much to build a schedule for an entire day, start by building a schedule for a specific routine.
Tips for Creating a Schedule:  

Meet Them Where They’re At
: Consider your child’s strengths and challenges when creating a schedule for them. If your child is a strong reader, a written schedule may be a good choice. If your child does not read yet or still needs support with reading, a schedule with pictures (and words below the pictures) is likely a better choice. You can also “break-it-down” if needed: break down the schedule into very specific components.

  •  Example of a morning routine schedule using pictures: First we use the bathroom (picture of toilet, brush teeth, wash face), then get dressed (underwear, shirt, pants, socks, shoes), then we have breakfast (cereal, yogurt), then school time (picture of school space in the home). Note: Taping actual pictures of the steps in the schedule is even better! If you are unable to do that, you can find pictures using a quick online search.
  • Example of a daily schedule using written words (morning routine): 1. Bathroom (toilet/teeth/wash face), 2. Get dressed, 3. Eat breakfast, 4. School time. 

Keep it Simple: Develop a clear (i.e., succinct, easily understood) schedule. The fewer words, the better.

  • Example: “Math, Reading, Science” instead of “Multiplication and Addition, Read Your Book to Me, Science Projects and Activities” 

Changes Happen!: Update the schedule as soon as possible if you anticipate a change in routine. Inform your child of any changes in routine right away and remind them about these changes. 

  •  Example: One morning, you wake up and realize that you have to go to the store during the typically scheduled school time. Update your child’s schedule to include “store” at the correct point in the day. Tell your child, “This afternoon, I have to go to the store. Today, your schedule is going to be (point to schedule) first X, then Y, then store, then school time.” Throughout the day, provide your child with reminders. For example, “We just finished X, now we are doing Y. After Y, we go to the store. After the store, it is school time.” 

Use What You’ve Got: Do you have a schedule from school that your child used? Use that as a template to create yours. This will help with consistency. Do you have sticky notes? Or paper and tape? You can use these items to write/draw each component of the daily schedule so you can swap them around if the schedule changes.

Get Physical: Incorporate physical activities into the schedule. Kids need “wiggle-breaks.”

Break It Up: Incorporate breaks into the schedule. Use breaks to do fun activities with your child or have your child play independently. You can also incorporate self-care activities such as meditation breaks, music-only time, and stretching.

Tips for Using the Schedule:

  • Keep it accessible and easy-to-see (at your child’s eye level).
  • Review the schedule each morning and provide visual/verbal prompts throughout the day (e.g., “It’s time for X” or “First we X then we Y”).
  • Try to keep the schedule as consistent as possible, but remember “changes happen!” When a change occurs in the schedule, it should be announced or previewed (e.g., “You finished all of your science work for this week. Instead of science today, we will be doing reading time.”). 

The ultimate goal is that your child will follow the schedule independently. When your child is completing components of their schedule on their own, celebrate with them! Provide them with high-fives and tell them exactly what they did you’re excited about (e.g., “You did X and Y all by yourself! Nice work!”).

As the Director of School Consultation at May Institute, Dr. Whitney  Kleinert oversees the implementation of applied behavior analysis (ABA) direct and consultation services across all school-based contracts, including Boston Public Schools. Dr. Kleinert is a licensed Psychologist (LP) in Massachusetts, a certified health service provider, and a doctoral-level Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D).
May Institute is an award-winning nonprofit organization with more than 65 years of experience in serving children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. For more information, visit or call 800-778-7601.