Creating a Routine for Children With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — August 19, 2021 — 3 min read
For parents of children with an intellectual and developmental disability (IDD), using a daily routine has many benefits.

Daily tasks and events may make children with IDD nervous, particularly when they don’t know what is coming next. Routines help calm these nerves. They help children feel safe and secure with their daily tasks, especially tasks your child may consider difficult.

“We don’t think about our routines. But people with IDD need routines to get through the day. It helps them know what to expect and what they will need to meet the day’s challenges. This way, routines can help ease their anxiety,” said Dr. LaTanya Sobczak, a clinical psychologist.

Dr. Sobczak has provided recommendations to consider when forming a routine.

Start Small

Build the routine one day at a time. Children will be more open to change if it comes slowly. Because most children attend school during the day, start with an after-school, weekend, or morning routine. You can add new tasks to a routine as your child gets comfortable.

Make it Unique

Each routine should be specific to your child and their needs. Watch how they handle structure. Do they need constant structure? Or do they like some independence? Consider these answers when forming the routine.

You should also use tools that are familiar to your child. For example, talk to their teachers about any routines they already have at school. Then you can use similar tools, adapting to what works at home.

Involve Your Child

Your child is more likely to accept a new routine if they help create it. Ask for your child’s input and provide chances for them to pick an activity. For example, include options of downtime activities or choices of food for snack time.

Communicate Clearly

Clearly communicate what to expect during the routine. Visual schedules may help your child follow along. These visual schedules will be different for everyone, but some examples include:
  • Physical lists to carry throughout the day
  • A schedule to hang on the fridge
  • A schedule using pictures rather than words

Keep it Fun

Your child’s routine will include tasks they may find difficult. Be sure to include breaks by alternating hard tasks with fun ones. Physical breaks are a fun way to balance the routine. For example, try including dance breaks or stretching to de-stress.

Stick with It

A routine will not develop overnight. It takes repetition to find the best routine and stick with it. Don’t be afraid to go back and adjust according to your child’s needs. As your child grows, feel free to add new tasks to the routine. Similarly, don’t be afraid to scale back the routine if your child is having a bad day.

“Starting a routine may not work right away, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good thing and it’s not beneficial,” said Dr. Sobczak. Depending on your child, you may want to stick with the routine. You also have the option to adjust its structure.

“It all has to do with knowing your child.”

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