6 Red Flags That Your Child Needs More Structure and How to Help
All families can benefit from having a degree of 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. Any uncertainty can cause major stress. This usually stems from not having a full understanding of the how the world works.
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Without a structured environment and routine children may experience severe anxiety. They may experience more frequent meltdowns – to cope they may attempt to control all situations or create and insist on following their own ritualistic routines.
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?
Households without structure and order tend to have problems, such as:
- Transitioning issues
- Compliance issues
- Children don’t initiate activities (if bored, they just bother their parents instead of finding something to do)
- The kids fight and aggravate each other all day
- The house is hard to keep clean; toys, puzzles, games are scattered everywhere
- Keeping the kids entertained is placed on Mom and Dads shoulders – they never play independently
Individuals with autism thrive on routines – adding structures at home can help your child cope with the inconsistencies in life. It can help them understand expectations and gain independence.
There are many ways to add extra supports to your child’s day to day life:
- 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
Your home should be structured in a way that is easily understood by your child.
This involves 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 – with 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.
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.
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
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:
- 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 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 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 – painting, coloring, cutting and glueing, 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.
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.
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 less anxiety reactions (like meltdowns). It will also help your child be more tolerant to change, since the warnings are in place to help them be successful with transitions.
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. 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.