How To Support People With Autism Through Routine Changes

Changes in routine can be stressful for both children and adults with Autism.

Routines provide a feeling of safety because they are predictable. The level of change that causes distress for individuals with Autism is different for each person.

Here, we share some insight into potentially triggering routine changes and provide recommendations on how to support your loved one.

What are some potentially stressful routine changes?

  • Having a different support worker
  • Changes in weather and temperature 
  • New clothing or shoes
  • Someone different picking up from school or day program
  • Having visitors at home
  • Visiting someone else at their home
  • Changing activities
  • Unexpected occurrences (like a fire alarm going off)
  • Doing things in a different order (like eating dinner before having a shower when it is usually having a shower first)
  • Not being able to finish an activity (like watching the end of a movie, finishing a game)
  • Going to a new place
  • Having a new teacher or therapist
  • Being introduced to new foods
  • Not being able to go somewhere New plates, cutlery, drink bottle
  • New toiletries (like toothbrushes, brushes, soaps)
  • A new member of the family (like a pet or baby)
  • Changes to the environment (like moving furniture around)

How can I support an individual with Autism when this occurs?

  • Communicate the change in advance if possible. Being warned about incoming change will assist the person to manage the situation more easily.
    Try social stories. This involves a short story with pictures that explains the change. They are usually from the perspective of the person with Autism (for example “I will go to the dentist”).

    These can be read before, during and after the change to support the person to understand and adapt to it because they know what to expect. Social stories may be on paper or a person’s device (for example iPad, Proloquo2go, Lamp).

  • Explain the change with visuals like drawings, pictographs or photos. They can be made into any size and are handed to an individual step by step to prepare them during the routine.
    Create a schedule. This could be as simple as “first” and “then” or plan the individual’s day in advance. Their schedule might include visuals but could be handwritten — it depends on the individual’s capacity to understand the text.
  • Offer short and simple explanations. It is important to give information in short bursts to allow the person to process and understand without overwhelming them. For example “the pool is closed today, so we are staying home”. 
  • Set a variety of timers to help the person transition between activities or steps in their routine. Visual timers include sand timers and gel timers. Auditory timers include alarms on a device, ringing a bell or an alarm clock. Have extra time to spare. Some individuals may require additional time to process and complete routines when a change has been implemented. Reward flexibility. Individuals with Autism have increased difficulty when routines are changed, therefore it is important to praise their flexibility when they are able to be supported through the change. 
  • Use people in their lives. Many people with Autism have a support team (for example teachers, therapists, family members). Utilise each person on the team to support the individual through routine changes. For example, each person uses the prepared visuals/schedule/social stories to ensure consistency and repetition of the upcoming change to routine. 
  • Use sensory supports. Sensory supports can assist when an individual becomes dysregulated during the routine change. For example, fidget toys, weighted blankets, movement breaks, music, objects to squeeze, headphones. Each individual with Autism has different sensory preferences so it is important to determine these prior to offering something during a change in routine. 

Include your Speech Pathologist in the changes

If your loved one has a Speech Pathologist, be sure to include them when any routine changes occur. Your Speech Pathologist can help provide routine consistency through regularly scheduled sessions.

For more information about scheduling sessions, contact our team on (02) 4953 6128 today.


Please get in touch with our team today, we would love to help you and your child.

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