What’s inside this article: An overview of how lack of structure negatively impacts children’s behavior, the importance of structure for all kids – especially those with autism, four simple but actionable ways to implement more structure in your children’s lives.
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Honestly, all families can benefit one way or another by adding more structure in their home. It benefits both parents and children. But, this is especially true for parents that are raising a child with autism.
But, it can be hard to decide how to structure your home, or how to start.
However, the bottom line is kids need structure in order to thrive.
For many children with autism, having a structured home environment helps them feel safe. Generally, any uncertainty may cause major stress for
It can be difficult for children to maintain appropriate behavior during new, unfamiliar, or uncertain situations due to this behavior rigidity.
Does Your Home Need More Structure?
Kids need structure, and without a structured environment and routine children may experience severe anxiety.
For example, they may create and insist on following their own ritualistic routines.
Or, they may be extremely insistent on using certain objects like only the blue cup, only the red shirt, only watching one TV show.
Behavior Red Flags:
Can you take a phone call or have a conversation with your spouse or another adult without your child getting into everything or interrupting you with demands?
If your home doesn’t have enough structure for your child, there are likely behavior problems such as:
- Transitioning issues -especially bedtimes, morning routines, homework routines, etc.
- Compliance issues – When you tell your kids to do something, do they even do it?
- Children don’t initiate activities on their own (if bored, they just bother their parents instead of finding something to do)
- Siblings never seem to get along – they may intentionally annoy one another or regularly fight.
- The house is hard to keep clean; things never seem to get put back in their place, items always seem to be lost, the kids’ stuff is everywhere (especially toys).
- The kids never play independently, or they can’t play without supervision (even if they’ve reached an age where this should be possible)
Why does a lack of structure cause behavior challenges?
Unlike adults, children’s brains are still developing, especially the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for executive functions. The prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the mid-twenties.
This matters, a lot. Because, this is where the ability to plan ahead and make predictions about the future take place.
Children aren’t able to do this accurately simply because their brains haven’t developed that skill yet. So, they depend on structure and routine.
Uncertainty leaders to anxiety. A highly predictable routine helps children feel secure and know what to expect, and practice by making simple predictions.
How to Add Structure to Your Home
Kids with autism thrive on routines. Therefore, adding structures to your home can help your child cope with all the inconsistencies in life.
But make no mistake – these structures are beneficial to all kids.
The world is filled with uncertainty. But, having a well-structured home can help your child feel safe because they will always know what to expect at home.
Additionally, it can help them understand expectations and gain independence.
If your child needs more structure, these changes will help reduce the chaos in your home and everyone will feel better because of it.
There are many ways to add extra structure to your home and your child’s day to meet their needs.
This post covers these four ways to add structure:
Children process information best visually and kinesthetically, therefore the best way to add structure to the home is with visuals and consistent
Structuring the Environment
It’s important to structure your home in a way that will be easily understood by your child.
Start by first creating predictable spaces and routines within your home for certain activities. For example:
Structure Demands – The Task/Chore System
Now to set up the work/chore system.
This can be any type of system that you create which shows your child what their expectations and/or chores are.
Chores and responsibilities are one of the easiest ways to add more structure to your kids’ lives.
Make sure their responsibilities are developmentally appropriate. Your child needs to feel successful when completing these chores. You don’t want them to be a source of frustration.
It’s also important to have a specific way for your child to show that these tasks are “all done”. Such as, an “all done” envelope or folder to place the visual in, removing it from sight. Or a “done” space to move the tasks over to, or a checkbox they can write on.
As well, it should be clear to your child what to do next.
SchKIDules offers great visuals for the home and they’re available on Amazon – this has been the go-to choice for visual schedules and work systems in my home. It’s a great way to give kids structure, showing them visually what needs to be done.
For older kids who are becoming more independent and ready to start learning additional life skills, this can look entirely different.
For example, we made a chore and responsibility binder which also teaches children about money management and budgeting. This binder helps provide a great deal of structure to the daily routine in our home.
You can download the binder pages here.
Structure The Time
Structuring the time means h
Using a visual schedule is the best way to do this.
Your visual schedule should:
There are so many ways to create visual schedules. Choose the one that works best for your family.
Personally, we need to keep our visual schedule as a checklist. The kids use a dry erase marker to check things off as they progress through their day.
We didn’t see the benefits of having a visual schedule until we added in the checklist.
Examples of Visual Schedules
This one is also created using SchKIDules:
I also keep my kids schedule on my phone using a free app called “Time Tune“.
It sends me an alert when it’s time to transition the kids to a new activity. That way I can also be completing my own responsibilities without forgetting about their structured day.
Below is our summer schedule, however it will change when school starts:
At school, they created a simple visual schedule and task completion system using a cutting board, velcro, and pictures of different tasks.
Our current schedule:
What works for us is constantly evolving to meet the kids’ needs. This is an image of the schedule we’re currently using.
There are currently school closures so we had to find a new routine for our home that would support their educational needs and their needs for physical activity.
How to Begin Creating A Visual Schedule
If you’ve never done a visual schedule before it can be hard to know exactly where to start.
Follow these guidelines:
How To Create Your First Visual Schedule
- Write down what already happens every day
The best way is to begin by writing down your schedule starting with what already happens every day. (things such as dinner, waking up, bath time, going to school, etc)
- Fill in the gaps
Fill in the gaps by deciding on more structured activities for your child for specific times. Instead of telling them to “go play” you can add activities like – outdoor play, fine motor play (crafts, drawing, cutting, beading, etc), quiet time, etc
- Structure the environment
Set up specific areas in your home where each of these activities will happen and get any supplies you need. For example, set up your craft table, get a bin and fill it with homework supplies and set up a homework station. Build your calm down space, and anything else you want to create,
- Decide how to initiate transitions
Decide how you will transition in between activities on the schedule – will you use a timer? A verbal cue? A sound warning? A song? Each activity needs a clear start and finish. Plus, this transition cue should be consistent.
- Create the schedule visually
There are many different ways to do this. You can purchase one of the sets from SchKIDules, but you can also make this yourself – draw it by hand or create it by finding your own images online and printing them. (You will find lots of printables below)
- Display your schedule
Place the visual schedule in a central location in your home, such as the fridge, or in the family room. Ensure it’s in a location that makes it easy for yourself and kids to check the schedule. Or, laminate and clip ontop a clipboard for your child to take along with them.
- Teach your child to follow the schedule
It’s not enough to make it and hang it up on your fridge – you need to actually teach your child the routine. This is the most important part. This can take time and may require a lot of prompts and reminders in the beginning. You can’t deviate from the schedule once it’s set – your visual schedule is like a contract between you and your child.
You can also read in more detail about how to create a routine for your children that everyone can actually stick to here.
Click here to download my collection of 160 visuals to use with your visual schedule.
Structuring the time goes hand in hand with the visual schedule – the items on your schedule need to have clear start times and end times.
Generally speaking, you don’t need to do the exact same thing every day, but if you schedule “Art” for 3 pm to 4 pm, then every day during that time you need to be doing something related to art. For example painting, coloring, cutting and gluing, etc.
Structuring your home like this will bring order and quiet to your home because your child will feel more comfortable knowing exactly what to expect and won’t rely on your for as much instruction as they do now.
It’ll also free up time for you to get things done.
Looking for activity ideas? – Allow Pinterest to be your best friend!
Prepare For Changes
It’s inevitable that sometimes the schedule needs to change – your children will have appointments, or you’ll have an unexpected errand to run that will cause a change in the routine.
This can throw your child out of sync. It’s important to prepare for these changes with your child as much as possible.
Children need structure. Adding more structure will help your child have less stress and anxiety – and therefore fewer anxiety reactions (like meltdowns).
It will also help your child be more tolerant of change since the warnings are in place to help them be successful with transitions.
Having more structure will also help you. When your home is well structured your child will know what’s expected of them and what they should be doing at all times.
As a result, they will need less direct attention and instruction from you. This will make it easier for you to get things done around the home, keep things clean, and even have an uninterrupted conversation with another adult.