One of the most common things I hear from parents of children with Autism is that the morning routine is their most stressful time of the day.
The combination of anxiety and a lack of naturally produced Melatonin means that achieving and staying asleep is often challenging, so when morning rolls round the whole family is often far from rested.
Add to that an uncertain school day ahead, family hustle and bustle, and pressure to get out of the house on time and it really is the perfect recipe for a meltdown. It therefore isn’t a surprise that it is so often a challenging time.
In our house there are a number of things which help us to co-exist in the mornings without too many raging arguments and/ or tears. I’m not saying they are a magic wand, we still have our bad days. But life is definitely easier than it was before we introduced them.
Most important is the schedule:
The Bear hates to be nagged (don’t we all), and I am definitely a nagger by nature (just ask the Other Half)! Having a written schedule of things that need to be done which can be ticked off as she goes along means that I can keep track of how near we are to leaving the door and she can have her independence.
We use schedules for lots of different things in our house and always have, but none have made more difference than this one. Whether you decide to use photographs, images or a written list, the key is to emphasise what makes your child independent so they feel more in control of their morning.
Build in free time, especially if your child gets anxious about being late:
The more time we have the less likely the Bear is to get anxious about being late. This means that we all feel calmer as we get ready. And if things do go wrong lateness doesn’t add to an already stressful situation. On an average morning we are all ready at least twenty minutes before we leave. We also arrive at school and sing Disney songs ten minutes before the gates open. As we live close by, this means that if something has been forgotten we have time to turn back home and retrieve it without being late.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a reward:
There are some mornings that I know are going to be difficult. In our house this includes the first day of a new term, swimming days, and days where something unusual and non-preferred is planned. On those days I try to build in rewards to help things go a little more smoothly. Whether it’s a nice breakfast to set the day off on a good footing or the promise of a trip to the park after school. Something nice to combat the evil of the day usually goes down well.
What If None Of That Works?
The truth is that for some children, however perfect your morning routine is, their anxiety will still prevail. There are however other things you can do to help reduce their anxiety to enable them to leave the house:
Create An Anxiety Profile:
Discuss with your child exactly what it is that is making them anxious and together work on strategies to combat those anxieties. If it’s worry about the place you are going rather than leaving the house itself that is the problem, strategies may also need to be put into place at school.
Easier said than done I know! I am far better at it as a teacher than I am as a mum. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that you almost certainly aren’t doing anything wrong. Sometimes even despite our best efforts things don’t happen overnight. Take small steps, whether that’s doing the journey to school but agreeing not to go through the door, or going into school for one lesson at a time. Once small steps have been achieved you can them move onto larger ones.
Talk To Others:
Sometimes it’s really hard to look at your own life and be objective… I know I’ve been there. If there are professionals that you can access to help you come up with new strategies, it’s worth giving them a try. Whether it’s your child’s teacher, a psychologist or your local autism team, they may just have a strategy that you haven’t tried yet. It’s hard to have professionals in your home, I know, we’ve been there. But sometimes from the outside it’s just easier to see things that we miss when we are close to them.
If you don’t have access to professionals who can help, parent support groups can be a fantastic resource, whether in person or online. Not only are other parents great at sharing ideas but they are fantastic at making you feel less alone.
Is PDA In The Mix?
If your child has Pathological Demand Disorder mornings may we’ll be particularly challenging. Not only are they filled with demands from you (Get out of bed, Get dressed. Eat your breakfast etc..), they know that a day full of demands at school will follow. Try as much as possible to reduce the demands you are giving. Think carefully about how you phrase your requests and be prepared to compromise.
Remember arriving late to school is better than not getting there at all, take your time, stay calm and above all be kind to yourself. You are doing a good job.
Why not join our Facebook Group full of parents and teachers of children with autism who are working together to share strategies.
Our online autism courses are also a great place to learn more.
Try watching our video about how to use simple schedules (which allow for flexibility) at home.
Join our tribe below to receive our free basic reward chart. Perfect for motivating younger children to get out of the house each morning.
If you need any further help or would like me to explain anything further don’t hesitate to drop me an email.