Autism Parent’s Guide to a Less Stressful Morning

You can see it on everyone’s faces.  It’s in Mom or Dad’s eye roll and breathless apologies as they slip into the classroom 10 minutes late, a child’s uncombed hair or disheveled clothing, and the forgotten folder.  The rough morning… Everyone has them, some of us more often than others.   Getting out of the house with a child with autism adds another element of stress.  If you find yourself having these mornings more frequently than you’d like, take a look at these tips for a smoother start to your day.

1. Wake Up Earlier

I know, no one wants to hear this, but sometimes this simple answer can have a great impact.  If you find yourself always rushing everyone out the door, you might need to start the process earlier.  If your child is slow to wake, maybe go in 5 minutes earlier than usual.  Or, maybe it’s you who could use some extra time.  Either way, a little resentment toward your alarm clock when it sounds earlier than usual is worth the less stressful morning.

2. Visual schedule

This is something I would recommend for all parts of the day, but can be especially helpful in the morning when you need a child to do somethings for him or herself.  Just like you may need a checklist or reminders of things you need to do in your day, your child may need some help remembering the routine of the morning.  You can create one big schedule including things like brushing teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, etc., or break them down into visual steps for simply brushing teeth.

Learn how to create visual schedules and checklists here.

3. Breakfast

The most important meal of the day, right?  If eating is a really slow process for your child, look at ways to decrease the time, rather than getting frustrated everyday.  Your child may need a more detailed feeding program, but one of the easiest things you can do to help is using that “First-then principle”.  You can use a promised reinforcer to help motivate your child to eat.  If he or she wants to play with Batman, say, “you can have Batman, but first I need you to eat your cereal.”  Or, more succinctly, “first food, then Batman”.  This can also be a more natural reinforcer if there is a part of the meal or a drink that your child loves.  For example, if your child loves milk and likes to drink the whole glass before eating, save the milk for after they eat.  I know this sounds obvious, but we all fall into our little habits, and it becomes harder to see how to change them when you’re in it.

4. Pack bags at night

This is something I used to do for myself (and need to start doing again).  Having everything packed and ready to go for the next day will not only help ease the morning, but may help you sleep better at night, knowing you are ready to go.  Kids have their belongings, too.  I’ve watched so many families struggling to get out of the house with moms yelling “go get your homework folder” and “where are your shoes?”  In a last-minute scramble to pack everything up, you are likely to forget things, as well as want to pull your hair out.  Teaching kids to pack their own things at night can be helpful to this process, as well.

5. Save the iPad for the car

Screen time may be a no-no in your house, but whatever it is that your child gets distracted with in the morning, try to save it for the car ride when everything is done.

Some of these tips may require more explanation or practice.  We have resources for those here.  I hope these tips will help move your mornings from rushed to relaxed.  You may even get to school on time.