Monday, November 29, 2010

Schedules and Routines

I know that all children thrive on schedules and routines and one of the first thing parents do when a baby is born is start working on establishing a schedule and a routine. But when does that need become crucial? abnormal? absolute? And when is that a problem?

We have several routines around here. We have a morning routine (with modifications for the weekends when Kevin is home versus when he's not). We have a dinner-time routine. We have a bedtime routine. We even have a pick-the-kids-up-from-school routine. In a "normal" household consisting of 2 parents, 3 children, and a dog, I would expect something similar. But we are different. Our "routines" are absolute. There can be little-to-no deviations. Even the slightest things can be catastrophic. And when I say the "slightest thing", I mean the STUPIDEST thing.

The best example of this is our "Getting the Big Boys From School Routine". A typical afternoon jaunt (on a driving day [not worth talking about walking right now because we rarely do that as it's getting colder]) goes like this -- after Simon gets home from school (most days [don't ask how we distinguish Mondays from the rest of the week -- that would take another post]), he goes straight into the car and we head down the hill to pick up Daniel and a neighbor, also in kindergarten. We have to park the car in the SAME spot every day. We have to walk the same path to get to the kindergarten door, including walking AROUND a particular tree. We have to jump across the driveway for the elementary school. And we must avoid ALL marked crosswalks (the closest I can come is I can walk the outer boundary line and Simon will hold my hand on the outside of the crosswalk and will scream as we cross the street -- trying to explain to the 4th grader patrols that my 3 year old cannot walk in the crosswalk is finally starting to become unnecessary). I have to make sure Daniel gets in the car before Simon and the back door has to be closed before Simon will climb into his seat. Simon then has to be given a book to "read" before I strap him in, and then I have to walk around the car to be sure that the other boy is properly strapped in. Then I drop off our neighbor and bring my kids home and another routine begins.

Notice the detail in that last paragraph. Nothing can deviate. It MUST be that way. If we do change anything -- if I miss our preferred parking spot or I decide to have a too-lengthy conversation with another Mom picking up her kids, we are facing a meltdown. And dealing with Simon and a meltdown is definitely something to be avoided. He's not a small child. He's not a light child. With Rachel, I can pick her up, swing her over my shoulder and do what I have to do, should it come to that. Even when she's fighting it, I can usually manage it with minimal difficulty. For Simon, just lifting him is a challenge under ideal conditions. During a tantrum, it's nearly impossible. And if I was to do it in public, people would probably consider calling Protective Services against me. It's just easier to avoid that situation.

Simon is not the only one who needs routine. Rachel is, in some ways, even worse. With Simon, for most things, he will just freeze where he is until you do what is expected. Rachel, when she "loses it", getting her back takes a very long time and you have to let things run their course. But many of her "routines" are more comical and/or useful. She has to come running if you make certain sounds. She can't go to sleep until she's taken that last "potty" run, even if she just went to the bathroom 3 minutes before. And nothing requires that level of detail as I specified in the routine above.

Now, Daniel always thrived on routine, and he's clearly NOT autistic. But, to be brutally honest, at this point I can't remember, when he was 2 months shy of 4 years old, if routines were changed or not followed at all how he would react. He wouldn't throw a tantrum, but he also had a much larger vocabulary and was much more effective at expressing himself than his brother or sister. But did it throw him as badly as it does his ASD siblings? I honestly just can't remember.

Another one of those times that I have to wonder what is autism and what is just having 3 year olds......

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