Parents in our study told us that establishing a daily routine – and sticking to it, is one of the best approaches in raising a child with FASD.
A consistent routine can help your child learn independence, and important life skills. And it can help you cope with the unique challenges of raising a son or daughter with FASD.
Imagine how you would feel if someone re-arranged the contents of your kitchen cupboards everyday. And then picture what it would be like to prepare a meal, not knowing where anything was stored! If your routine were disrupted, it wouldn’t take long to feel very confused and frustrated.
That’s how some children with FASD feel when they have to deal with change. In fact, even the most minor changes can create major confusion for your child.
Here’s an example. Each morning, Susan puts her son Adam’s clothes at the foot of his bed so he can get dressed for school. One morning, she puts them on his dresser. Later, when she goes up to check on him, she’s surprised to find him sitting on his bed, still in his pyjamas.
By changing where she put his clothes, Susan changed Adam’s routine, so he was no longer sure what to do.
Children with FASD have permanent brain damage, which can cause them to have a hard time learning and remembering new things, understanding that actions have consequences, or making the switch from one activity to another.
The key to helping your child overcome these challenges is to reduce the likelihood that they will occur by maintaining a well-structured, consistent home environment.
Parents across the country have told us that creating a routine – and sticking to it, has been one of the most rewarding experiences for their families. Here are some tips to help you along the way:
Break down everyday tasks into simple, easy-to-follow steps.
For example – try teaching your child how to brush her teeth in steps: Go to the bathroom. Turn on the tap. Put some toothpaste on your toothbrush. Brush your teeth. Rinse your mouth. Smile!
- Make a checklist.
Post lists around the house to help your child remember his routine.
- Keep your instructions short and to the point. Try the “six words or less” rule.
Don’t say: Can you please collect all your toys and put them over there in the basket?
Try: Put your toys in the basket.
- Be prepared to repeat your instructions everyday.
A child with FASD can easily forget things you told him only a few hours ago. Repetition helps you reinforce your instructions. If you need to remind you child what comes next, do so in a quiet, low-key manner.
- Show and tell.
Try using picture cards that show your child how to get dressed, how to shower, etc. Use simple language and large letters to label the pictures.
- Review your routine with pictures.
Laminate your picture cards and use them to help your child remember her routine. When you need to change your child’s routine – for doctors’ appointments, family visits, etc., make a new picture card to reflect the upcoming day.
- Take the lessons out of the house.
Children with FASD often have a hard time generalizing routines, or applying what they learn in one situation to another. For example – your child knows he has to look both ways before he crosses his street. But he might not know he has to follow the same routine at every street. Therefore, it’s important to teach your child his routine in different environments and situations.
- Watch the clock.
Audio cues such as bells and alarms can be very effective. Program a watch to ring an alarm periodically – it will help your child remember what comes next!
- Be creative.
Creative, hands-on techniques such as role-playing are very helpful. For example - if your child is nervous about taking the bus to school, break the routine into steps and act them out. Have him pretend to wait by the driveway, board the bus and find a seat. Don’t forget to wave goodbye!
- Help your child deal with transition.
Always give your child lots of notice before switching from one activity to another. Some parents find ten-minute, then five-minute warnings to be effective. Verbal and visual cues are helpful too. You can also try role-playing transitional situations to help your child feel more comfortable with change.
- Have a back-up plan.
When you have to change your child’s routine – for special occasions or birthdays, for example, always have a backup plan prepared. Try talking to your child about her fears and then remind her of a time when she overcame that fear successfully. In this way, you can help your child link her past success to the present situation.
- Plan for weekends.
The weekends can present special challenges for school-aged children. Try to establish a special weekend routine to help your child cope with the change.
- Be consistent.
Stick to the same routines (such as bedtime) even on special occasions, such as Christmas or other holidays.
- Keep a checklist just for you.
Keep a wall chart for yourself. Use it to outline the steps needed to establish a routine with your child.
“Consistency makes it easier for our child, and in turn makes it easier for us.”
“It has to be A, B, C, everyday. If you throw a little wrench into the system –like a doctor’s appointment - without preparing them, you could sabotage the whole day. They go off the deep end because they don’t know what comes next.”
“We have very set routines. The morning routine is typed out, complete with pictures, then laminated. The kids can carry it around and follow the steps. I even posted one in the shower with a picture of a body and arrows pointing to the parts they need to remember to wash.”
“I say, ‘Check your list.’ If it’s the morning, check the morning list. If it’s the afternoon, check the after-school list. It gives my child a sense of independence and ownership – and I don’t have to talk so much!”
“We try and use the same words over and over again so that our child knows exactly what’s coming. “
“If there must be changes in our routine, we keep them quiet and low-key.”
“We always allow some extra time to get anything done.”
Next: Managing Your Child's Behaviour