6 Red Flags That Your Child Needs More Structure and How to Help
Honestly, all families can benefit one way or another by adding more structure in their home but this is especially true for parents that are raising a child with autism.
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.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links
This is a 13 part series (some posts coming soon). Each post in the series will explain an evidence-based strategy used by professionals for managing behavior with children on the autism spectrum. Each part of this series will contain a table of contents so you can easily navigate to the different strategies.
Table of Contents
- Strategy 1: Build a Relationship
- Strategy 2: Individualize Motivation
- Strategy 3: Observe, Listen, then Join
- Strategy 4: Optimize Language
- Strategy 5: The Premack Principal
- Strategy 6: Basic Redirect
- Strategy 7: Breaks
- Strategy 8: Picture Rehearsal
- Strategy 9: Add Structure at Home (that’s this post!)
- Strategy 10: Teach Independence with Prompting
- Strategy 11: Transactional Supports
- Strategy 12: Add Structure to the Learning Environment
Without a structured environment and routine children may experience severe anxiety. Consequently, they may experience more frequent meltdowns. So then they may attempt to control all situations in order for cope. 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.
Does Your Home Need More Structure?
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?
Commonly, households without structure and order tend to have problems, such as:
- Transitioning issues -especially bedtimes, morning routines, homework routines, etc.
- Compliance issues
- 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)
Individuals with autism thrive on routines. Therefore, adding structures to your home can help your child cope with all the inconsistencies in life. 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 also help them understand expectations and gain independence.
Adding more structure will help reduce the chaos in your home and everyone will feel better because of it.
There are many ways to add extra
- Structure the environment
- Structure the time
- Structure demands
- Prepare for changes
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.
As a rule, this involves first creating predictable spaces and routines within your home for certain activities. For example:
- A set “calm down” space
- A set play place for toys
- A consistent bedtime routine (ex. Brush teeth, story, lights out at the same time every day)
- A task or chore system where the motivator is visible and task completion is clear.
- Themed days of the week, such as “Taco Tuesday” or “Sunday Funday”
Structure Demands – The Task/Chore System
Just to delve into a little more detail about 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. It’s important to have a specific way for your child to show that these tasks are “all done” – for example, 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. As well, it shoud 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.
For older kids who are becoming more independent and ready to start learning additional life skills, this can look entirely different. For example, we have created a chore and responsibility binder based
Structure The Time
Structuring the time means
Using a visual schedule is the best way to do this.
Your visual schedule should:
- Depict the activities that will occur, and in what sequence
- Show transitions within the day (like changing activities or environments)
- Promote independence
- Can be created for the whole day, or broken up into chunks of the day (for example you could have a morning routine and an
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. 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 printed tasks.
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. “Creating Order in The Home” from ILoveABA! was an extremely valuable resource for us when I was preparing our schedule.
Follow these guidelines:
- The best way is to begin by writing down your schedule starting with what already happens every day. (such as dinner, waking up, bath time, etc)
- 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
- Set up areas in your home where each of these activities will happen (structure the environment!) get any supplies you need (if any)
- Create the schedule – 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.
- Decide how you will transition in between activities on the schedule – will you use a timer? A verbal cue? A sound warning? Each activity needs a clear start and finish.
- Place the visual schedule in a central location in your home, such as the fridge, or in the family room.
- 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.
tructuring 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.
As a result, 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.
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.
Consequently, this can throw your child out of sync. It’s important to prepare for these changes with your child as much as possible.
Use the other strategies to help your child prepare for changes – such as social stories, motivation, first-then statements and optimizing language.
Related: 8 Tips to Make Transitions Easier
Having a home with more structure will help your child have less stress and anxiety – and there for
Having 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.