Autism: Routines Are Key!

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woman teaching young autistic child routines

Predictable routines…they are everything when you are teaching young autistic children. We’ll discuss why predictable routines are so important and also about HOW to get started implementing a few in your own classroom! Predictable routines are lifelines for autistic students. Here’s why:

1. Stability and Reduced Anxiety in Predictable Routines

Imagine a world where every day feels like stepping into the unknown, where you can’t predict what will happen next. For many autistic students, this is their reality, which can lead to heightened anxiety levels. Predictable routines act as a beacon of stability in this otherwise unpredictable world. They offer a clear structure and a sense of security, allowing students to know what to expect each day. This knowledge significantly reduces anxiety levels and helps them feel more in control of their environment. Knowing what to expect and having a structured daily routine helps them feel secure and in control.

2. Learning and Development

Autistic students, like all children, thrive in environments that are conducive to learning and development. Predictable routines create just such an environment. When students feel comfortable and familiar with the daily routine, they are more likely to actively engage in activities and learning experiences. This familiarity empowers them to focus on the content of the lessons rather than worrying about what comes next, ultimately enhancing their educational experience.

Predictable routines create an environment conducive to learning and development. Autistic students can actively engage in activities when they feel comfortable and familiar with the routine.

3. Building Positive Relationships

Consistency in routines is not only beneficial for the students themselves but also for the relationships they build with their teachers and peers. When teachers consistently follow a routine, autistic students learn what to expect from them. This predictability fosters trust and a sense of security, enabling more positive and productive interactions. Strong teacher-student relationships are a cornerstone of effective education, especially for autistic students who may require additional support.

4. Anticipation and Control

One of the key advantages of predictable routines is that they allow autistic students to anticipate what comes next. This anticipation is invaluable in reducing anxiety, as it provides a sense of control over their environment. Knowing the sequence of events in their daily routine gives them a feeling of mastery, helping them navigate their day with greater ease and confidence.

5. Independence

Predictable routines play a pivotal role in promoting independence among autistic students. By following a consistent schedule and knowing what is expected of them, they can gradually learn to navigate through tasks and activities on their own. This increased independence is not only empowering but also essential for their long-term development, as it equips them with valuable life skills.

How to Create Predictable Routines

Predictable routines can help autistic students become more independent. By following a consistent schedule and knowing what is expected of them, they can gradually learn to navigate through tasks and activities on their own.

Start the Day With Predictable Routines

When your students get to your classroom, start the day with predictable routines. This can begin right outside the door when you teach your students how to hang up their coats and backpacks. Have a visual sequence posted at each coat hook, and have some loose ones available for the adults to grab and point to.  For some students, it might look like an adult doing most of the steps, and the child doing one step. 

Once you are in the classroom, get started with the day by checking the child’s visual schedule.  We always have one picture up on the visual schedules before we walk down to get our students off the bus. So, in reality, you are not 1:1 with a student. The first adult to get a child into the classroom will stay there, have that student check their visual schedule and get them to the location on the schedule. If they have two students, they will do this same process, but just one at a time. Then, as other students arrive, the adult in the classroom will continue this same process. We all know what it’s like at schools. There are late buses or an adult is stuck in the hallway with a student who has had a breakdown in their transition to the classroom.  

This structure will kick off the day with predictability vs. chaos.  And you know the chaos I’m talking about. Having students come in and wander around the room without guidance will usually end in chaos and dysregulation. Grab our Visual Schedules resource to have your own visual schedule for your students!

boy putting his visual routine on the board

Use Visual Supports Consistently

Create predictable routines using visual supports that are consistently utilized by all staff members. This takes some training and work on the front end, but will pay off a million times over as the school year goes on. Besides implementing visual schedules, I love starting with implementing the use of an “all done bucket” with all of my students.

To use an all done bucket, follow these steps:

1. Print and laminate the visual support for the all done bucket.

2. Choose a container such as a bin, basket, or shoebox to serve as the all done bucket.

3. Attach the laminated all done sign to the container using Velcro.

4. Use the all done bucket as a clear visual cue to indicate that it’s time to be finished with an activity or object.

5. Implement a routine where you set a timer for a specific amount of time (e.g., two minutes) and then announce “all done” when the timer goes off.

6. Encourage the child to place the activity or object in the all done bucket when the timer goes off.

7. Practice this routine consistently to help the child learn to let go of items and transition away from activities.

8. Use the all done bucket during mealtime or other situations where the child needs to let go of something and transition to a new activity.

9. Remember that the symbol used on the all done picture is not as important as the routine itself, so you can customize the visual support to fit your needs.

10. Keep the all done bucket accessible and use it as a reminder for the child to transition away from activities or objects.

The all done bucket visual is part of the free visual supports starter set available at

girls playing as part of their school routine

Rituals Around Transitions

Another way to use predictable routines to help your classroom run smoothly, is to create routines or rituals around transitions. Nobody likes to leave something they are enjoying to move on to a different activity. Adults included. Think about when you are snuggled into bed on a cold winter morning. Your alarm goes off and it’s time to get up, get ready and go to work. You might need a little extra motivation. Maybe it’s a hot cup of coffee or tea to help you make that transition. For our students, who have difficulty shifting their attention, transitions can be really difficult. Here are a few ways you can help with predictable routines:

  • Set a timer for 2 minutes and say “2 minutes then all done” or “2 minutes, then check schedule”. Then, follow through. Bring an all done bucket over and when the timer beeps, use the all done bucket to collect the toys or items that they are using. This will become a routine when it is implemented consistently by all staff. It will make transitions so much smoother!
  • If your student needs a little extra motivation to transition, use a transition object. A transition object can be a little toy or item that the child will like to hold onto. It could be a paw patrol character, a matchbox car, a piece of yarn…whatever the child likes. When the timer beeps, you can offer the child the transition object and most of the time it will redirect their attention from what they were doing and they will be better able to move on to the next activity.
steps to creating predictable routines

Continuous Training and Consistency

Ensure all staff members are trained in implementing routines consistently. Patience is crucial as students adjust to new routines.

Remember… in order to create a predictable routine, you need to have everyone on the same page. A little training ahead of time will go a long way in helping you achieve that consistency. Then, give it time. For some children it can take several weeks to learn these new routines, so don’t give up!  

Want to listen to the podcast on this topic? Using predictable routines to help your classroom run more smoothly

If you’d like to hear more about visual schedules, check out this episode Types Of Visual Schedules For Autistic Preschoolers!

Also this one, 5 Best Visuals For An Autism Classroom is another great resource!

If you use visual supports in your classroom or home, you are going to want to sign up for this free Visual Supports Starter Set ASAP! Click here to have one sent to your inbox. Also, be sure to read more about visual supports and how they can help autistic children here.

a picture with a variety of visual supports for autistic children there is an all done symbol, a wait mat, a first-then board, a visual schedule, an adapted book and a change card

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