Routines and Schedules Can Ease the Transition into the New Year

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

By Jenna Garvey, M.Ed., LABA, BCBA
As another holiday season draws to a close, many of us are looking forward to getting back to our regular routines. This is not surprising! While end-of-the-year celebrations are often joyful and fun, they can also create stress. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, we attend parties and mingle with family, friends, and strangers. Routines are disrupted as we fulfill family obligations, partake in celebrations, and engage in merriment.
This time of year can be especially stressful for children with autism and other special needs. For many, the holiday break is almost two weeks long. If there are a number of parties and family gatherings held during that time, these children will experience a major change in their typical routines.
During school vacations, families can support their children with special needs by maintaining their regular routines as much as possible. If certain morning and evening routines are already in place, stick with them whenever you can. In addition, try to keep regular sleep schedules. This will provide continuity and help ease your child’s transition back to school.
Make sure special activities occur on a predictable time schedule. Help your child understand when events like parties and family gatherings will happen by posting a calendar or agenda in a place where he will see it every day. The system you use can be modified based on his skills and ability to communicate.
For example, if you have a child who is verbal and works well with written instructions, you may want to use an electronic planner that she can access on a tablet or another electronic device. A low-tech alternative would be a calendar posted in a common area where you can record special events. An even more basic approach would be a simple visual schedule with easily recognizable pictures to signify upcoming events. You may want to create a schedule that looks like one she has in her classroom at school.
If you are not currently utilizing schedules and routines on a regular basis at home, now is a great time to begin! The new year presents us all with an opportunity for a fresh start. As the disruption from the holiday season dies down, give some thought to how you can put some additional structure in place to help your child successfully navigate everyday life. Schedules can be a helpful way to make expectations clear cut and easy to follow.
Let’s take the morning routine as an example. A visual schedule might outline that first we use the bathroom (toilet, brush teeth, wash face), then get dressed (underwear, shirt, pants, socks, shoes), then have breakfast (choose cereal or yogurt), then put lunch in bag. Using this approach, you can break each part of the routine into specific steps. For example, for tooth brushing: 1) Get toothbrush and toothpaste. 2) Put toothpaste on the brush. 3) Brush all areas of the mouth for two minutes.
Routines and schedules are generally recognized as effective supports for people with special needs. By providing predictability, these tools can help decrease your child’s stress during the holidays – and throughout the year – by helping him understand what will be happening and what is expected of him. As an added benefit, schedules and routines can help to facilitate learning because your child won’t have to spend so much time and energy trying to decipher what will happen next.
Jenna Garvey, M.Ed., LABA, BCBA, is the Clinical Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield, Mass. She can be contacted at
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. May Institute operates four schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, Mass. For more information, call 800-778-7601.