Routines are key for children with sensory challenges, especially those with ASD.
You’ve seen it before: Tuesday night they happily go to bed. Wednesday night...is a different story. What changed? Routine. In the morning, clothes are put on in a certain order, or they won’t leave the house. Maybe they can’t enjoy playtime without certain rituals.
Every child is unique, but there are common trends we’ve picked up on in our years of working with sensory parents. These patterns- when studied and applied- can be your best friend!
When your child gets into a routine where everything feels right, it makes them happier. They can challenge themselves and develop in other ways. And that makes your job as a parent easier!
How can you tailor routines to help your child? We’ll walk you through some examples.
Let’s get into it!
Whether you hit snooze or hit the brew button, your morning routine sets the tone for the day. It’s the same for your kiddo. When they get up, those first few hours are super important.
Whether your kid is heading to school, staying home, or going to play with friends, exercise is a fun way to start the day, boost mood and energy, and stay healthy. If morning movement is not their favorite thing, try a calming routine!
So, you’ve got a sensory seeker. Physical activity that is stimulating, challenging, and fun can help your kid get out of bed. Figure out their favorite sensory seeking activities, and create a short wake up routine. You can include music too!
Keep it simple and let your kiddo choose the activities for the routine.
1. Hop across the room
2. Do animal walks on all fours
3. Utilize indoor scooters or swings if you have them
Even just a few minutes of running or playing helps develop balance, spatial awareness, and athleticism.
They can burn excess energy, and destress; this puts them in a happy and calm mood, ready to start the day with their playtime needs satisfied.
Sensory avoiders want to feel in control during their playtime, and in any physical environment. Unexpected or loud noises can be overwhelming. Bright lights and other visual stimuli can be hard to handle too.
You know what your kiddo is most sensitive too. If it’s loud sounds, keep their routine quiet, or play calming music. For bright light sensitivity, keep the lights low or the blinds mostly closed during their morning routine. You can adjust their routine and modify their environment.
Just like for sensory seekers, keep it simple.
Maybe they want to:
1. Slowly wake up
2. Listen to calm music in bed
3. Play with a certain set of toys on a soft mat
Go slow and let them be in control of their routine.
Some music and sensory comfort is a great way to start the day, whether you’re staying at home or getting ready to go!
Does your kiddo seem stressed when they come home from school? Do they have lots of pent-up energy or frustration? Are they bored and hungry for some fun?
A midday routine can bring sensory seekers and avoiders back down to earth.
For seekers, you can create another quick physical activity routine (with music too!). You could also create a sensory bin or box with playdough, rice, or other fidget toys. Keep in mind they might be hungry, too!
Here’s an example routine:
Come inside, take off shoes.
Sensory bin for 5-10 minutes
Snack! Especially crunchy food if they like it.
For sensory avoiders, they might need to destress and regulate in a calm and safe space. This could be a slow swing or a calm corner. Their calm corner could have lots of pillows and their favorite stuffed animals or soft toys. Use calm music too!
Their routine could look similar to the seeker routine! Just replace the activity, and maybe avoid the crunchy snack!
A good night’s sleep is one of the most important parts of staying healthy. If your kiddo has trouble getting ready for bed, they may not get that sleep. And, you may not, either!
Reduce nighttime meltdowns with a routine.
Here’s an example for a sensory seeker:
1. Brush teeth
2. Yoga poses - think downward dog!
3. 3 bigs squeezy hugs from Mom or Dad
For a sensory avoider, try:
1. Brush teeth (gently, this might be hard for them!)
2. Two calming songs with lights off
3. Gentle hug from Mom or Dad if they want
However your kiddo decides to set up their nighttime routine, it will help them get a soothing, satisfying night’s sleep (and that means more sleep for you!)
Deep pressure from a weighted blanket or tight-fitting compression sheet can comfort them too. Some sensory avoiders enjoy these too!
Deep and comforting pressure helps release melatonin (the sleep hormone) and lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body. They’ll happily climb into bed, and fall asleep- and stay asleep- with ease.
Comforting routines mean a lot to children who struggle with SPD.
No matter who your child is, and what their particular traits are, some things will comfort them, and others will aggravate them. As parents, we can help them discover and enjoy routines that address their needs.
That brings us closer to goals; a happier kiddo, fewer meltdowns, and more time learning and developing!