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3 Things Autism Taught Me About Scheduling

If you are a #parent you probably have a calendar of events somewhere. If you have a child with #specialneeds you have a bigger one. If you are parenting a child that uses a #visualschedule or #pictureexchangesystem then when I say the word schedule something very specific goes through your mind. Watching and learning how my son uses a whole variety of different types of schedules has given me some things to consider. Today I want to share 3 things that autism has taught me about the power of scheduling.

At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, they have a research program that's designed specifically to support individuals and families who have autism. The name of the program is called TEACCH and it's a fabulous program. When I first went to TEACCH, Jack was very young, maybe 4? We hadn't really started kindergarten yet and we were still very new to this process. I was still in this place where I was kind of not really accepting the autism. I mean obviously, I knew he had autism but I was still trying to eradicate the diagnosis at this point. I just wanted to get rid of it. So when I went in to TEACCH my perspective wasn’t as helpful as it could have been.

One of the first things that I learned from TEACCH was something called a task schedule, which I had never really heard of before. If you haven’t heard of them before task schedules provide support for individuals with autism to help them get through tasks independently and they’re really pretty simple. It works on kind of a folder system. You have folders that are the beginning of your work set up on the left-hand side and each folder have the information in it to complete whatever task it is. It could be following directions for washing dishes or whatever it is, and it details out the steps in order to complete the task. Once the child finishes each step they move a marker over to the right-hand side, close up the folder and then put the folder in another bin on the right.

It's a fantastic idea and actually, Jack does use this type of schedule to help get his work done independently in the classroom. It's very successful. However, at the time, I was insanely overwhelmed at the idea of all the visual depictions I was going to have to put together for my son. All I saw when I looked at the system where all the tiny little images that I was going to have to laminate, cut out, and then figure out how to tote. in addition to this visual task schedule, we're also these ideas of my son having and using cards to make requests and have his needs met. My brain just exploded. I mean how in the hell was I going to do that. It was like trying to put together a visual dictionary, I didn't even know where to begin.

I was completely overwhelmed. If you are familiar with a visual exchange system or schedule, you know what I'm talking about.

So I pushed back hard against this idea first because one of the things that Jack was so good at was being flexible, and all I saw with all of these schedules were ways that I was going to be making him inflexible. It was like I was going to make him dependent on a schedule and how limiting that would be because let's face it, life does not care about your schedule. You might have six things written down on your calendar to do for a day and one thing could happen in the morning and then you don't do any of them. That’s how much life cares about your schedule.

I was afraid that I was going to be teaching my son how to not deal with those challenges that just come up every day. So I pushed hard against this for a long time.

Then Jack goes to school and we're doing our thing and I spend years trying to figure out my own hot mess, and gradually, what I learn is that these routines and these schedules are powerful, and not just if you have special needs. They're powerful in just making a person feel in control of their day. So today when I talk about the three things that I've learned about scheduling and routine because of autism.

  1. Feeling in control

Right. So the first thing is is that when you have a routine and a schedule, you feel in control, you have a sense of power or command over your time, which is the most precious asset you have at your disposal. Nothing is more valuable than your time. There is a HUGE difference between letting your day happen, and making your day happen. The power you feel by being deliberateness of your day becomes more apparent when you sit down and you plan it. All of a sudden there's an energy shift. I don't really have a great word for this but it feels different. You no longer feel like you're floating like a feather on the wind. You feel like you are the captain of your ship. It’s amazing when you experience that feeling of intentionality when you sit down and you deliberately decide, and choose what you're going to fill your day up with.

2. Self-care becomes easier

The second thing I've learned about scheduling and routines, is that when you take control of your time like this, it becomes easier to build in the self-care that you desperately need.

Look, everybody needs to take care of themselves. Everybody needs to give themselves health and self-care. If you are the parent or caregiver of a child with special needs, you need to do that like times 30. But of course, no matter how critical it is it's always the first thing that gets chopped off the to do list. Keeping a routine/schedule makes it so much easier to make this a priority. It doesn't really matter what it is either, just something. You deserve this. I make sure that I have a bath once a week. And I journal every day. That's my time. But I can also build extra time into my day when I need it because I know how important it is. Building in the routine of self care makes sure I'm not going off balance. I enjoy being productive and getting stuff done but without some downtime I burnout and then spend a week doing nothing. Doing it proactively and DELIBERATELY means I don’t have to do that. I give myself what I need to stay charged day over day.

3. Power of habit

The last thing that I have learned is about scheduling and routine is the absolute power of habit. While for my son this might slide on the scale towards OCD everyone’s brain is going to do this.

Hands down.

You are designed as an animal, as a species. We are designed to minimize the amount of effort it takes for us to go throughout our day. This a biological thing, it's like saving calories, it's really, really basic, right, the less energy we use, the better for us from an evolutionarily, perspective. So your body and your mind are designed to make things as automatic as possible so that you don't have to spend energy thinking. We do this every day, all the time for so many things. Not just actions but even our feelings can be habit. You get up, you brush your teeth, you go to the bathroom, you take a shower, you grab a cup of coffee. I guarantee you've been doing those things, almost exactly the same way for a really long time, maybe a decade. You probably drive the same way to work, you probably eat the same meals, all this stuff. And it's done that way on purpose. If you have a child with autism, then you understand how powerfully important some of those routines and rituals even can be in getting something done. We have a way of going to bed, we have a way of taking a bath, we have a way of washing our body to make sure it gets done. So what’s so powerful about this is that when you are in control of your time then you can create habits for yourself to get done the things that you want to get done. As effortlessly as possible. It's an amazing thing. You can use this natural brain process to work for you instead of keepin you stuck. When you decide to commit to it. This is how you make self-care, a habit. This is how you make going to the gym, habit. It’s how you make all of those little things that you've got to get done for your kid, for your family, just routine.

When these things start to happen, your stress level goes down because you're not freaking out about how you're going to get everything done. You've created the pathway for the things to get done - all the things.

For some reason, even though it is super helpful people balk at building this kind of schedule.

I totally get it.

Spontaneity is amazing. I love spontaneity. I am a spontaneous person. But I’ve learned the power of building spontaneity, into my schedule. LOL I know sounds stupid, and counterintuitive but listen, that is how you create momentum and feelings of empowerment and control over your life. This is how you feel better and you are making things better - no worse. You own your day and if there's anything you should own, it's your time. We push so hard against scheduling it and being diligent but I'll tell you, once you start doing this, once you start engaging with your schedule in a deliberate way you are going to feel so good.

You're going to wonder why the hell you haven't been doing this for as long as you've been an adult. It's really amazing. So I encourage you al to start doing this. Start thinking about what is of value to you and giving it the correct amount of time out of your day, because again, your most valuable asset is your time. If you're not sure how to do this just start with a Google search. There are so many things online that can help you out to get you there, videos and podcasts and all the things. And of course, you can always like reach out and set up an appointment, I'm here to help. That's what I'm here to do. So just get out there, bang out on your shit. Get it done.


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