In this post, you will learn how to use a daily schedule to create momentum and decrease anxiety in autism.
There have been mixed reactions to the realities of social isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some embrace a positive attitude and consider this time as akin to a snow day. Others have left their daily routine kicking and screaming.
Many of those with good spirits on Day 1 have seen their smiles slip just a bit by Day 5. A change in routine can be strenuous even for the most hardy individuals.
SOCIAL ISOLATION AND THE ABSENCE OF ROUTINE
Although many ASD individuals prefer social isolation much of the time, they also struggle with unexpected changes in daily routine. For the autistic who typically attends activities (e.g., day program, work, school), runs errands (e.g., grocery shops every Wednesday), and connects with others (e.g., bridge games every Friday evening), living without a schedule is very difficult.
CREATING AN ARTIFICIAL SCHEDULE
Creating a schedule (when none is needed) is the recommendation of many experts during this time. While we all benefit from routine, the autistic is more likely than most to require the stability and repetition it offers.
The Why: Two Benefits of a Schedule for the Autistic
Some individuals on the spectrum, particularly those who are under-engaged in their environment, are more active when a schedule serves to "propel" them forward. In the absence of a schedule, these people often drift toward inertia and become even more disengaged from the world around them.
A schedule can also be repetitive and predictable. The autistic often feels more peaceful when he knows what to anticipate next. Also, the ASD brain loves repetition (repeating movements, phrases, activities).
A reproducible schedule is not only predictable but also repetitive, both of which are soothing to the autistic.
The How: Focus on Variety, Health, and Special Interests
Because the autistic brain loves repetition, individuals on the spectrum can become easily stuck on one thing (e.g., reading, video games). It is generally better for well-being to have a variety of activities during the day. Two or three separate projects would be better than one.
The individual with autism may lean toward a reversed sleep cycle, repetitive eating habits, and/or inconsistent exercise.
The schedule should include a specific time for waking in the morning and sleeping in the evening. A simple menu of food with schedules times for meals and snacks may help maintain nutrition during social isolation. Many on the spectrum benefit from physical activity (in order to receive vestibular and proprioceptive inputs for calming) but don't participate unless structured. For this reason, scheduling some form of exercise (walking, yoga, etc) is also recommended.
3. Special Interests
The season of social isolation is stressful enough without pressing the ASD individual to participate in non-preferred activities. A focus on interspersing diverting projects that lie within the autistic's fixed interests will be more helpful in supporting emotional and behavioral resilience.
Creating a schedule when none is required supports the well-being of those on the autism spectrum during these uncertain times.