“First… and then…” power, or how to reduce anxiety levels and prevent meltdowns when communicating with an autistic child?

As soon as my autistic boy opens his eyes in the morning I get the question: “what’s our plan for today mummy?” If it is the usual day of the school year he normally knows the answer J


  • you go to the toilet


  • flush the water


  • brush your teeth


  • wash your face and hands


  • get dressed


  • have breakfast


  • put on my shoes


  • going to school


  • you will be the best boy in school


  • I’ll pick you up from school.

At school, he always knows his daily schedule, which is hanging over his desk, waiting for him every single day. The same plan, illustrated with pictures, is already shown to him the day before.

In the book “AUTISM: 365 Different Days”, a teacher working in a special autistic class says:

“Our routine is very particular in our class as this suits our children. They respond well when they know exactly what to expect from their day.

When teaching or working with children with ASD it is important to always make every class or lesson as visual as possible. Each of our children have a visual schedule that they refer to independently throughout the day. The addition of these schedules has reduced anxiety levels for all of the children in the class. It also helps us to maintain our routine each day. “

“Every activity being taught to a child with ASD must have a certain level of structure as our children can become overloaded with too many options if their activities are not presented in a certain way. This includes making each activity as visual as possible.”

“I had always heard stories about challenging behaviours in children with ASD but now that I have a few years of experience I have come to realise that the only time we experience any challenging behaviours are when the children have raised anxiety levels and this can be completely avoided by making their day predictable and also by using reduced language and increased visuals when teaching and interacting with most of the children.”

After returning from school, my son’s routine may change every day, depending on whether we need to go to afterschool activities or therapies or if it’s going to be a quiet evening at home. It is no secret that autistic children need special praise and encouragement. At least in our case, it has been very successful in promoting something he likes for good behaviour at school. Like probably every child, he knows the “secret” places where all the “nonsense” food, as we call it, is hidden, i.e. biscuits, popcorn snacks or whatever tastes good to him. Mostly he says, “I will have “normal” meal first and then I will get “nonsense” J

Bed routine is important too. It has been known to everyone in our house for so many years, and I do not even remember when morning or evening routine would be an issue, because everything is clear to everyone … Whether in the form of pictures, electronic applications, or just word of mouth first … and then guaranteed will make your day and your autistic child’s life easier.

P.S. If your child wants or desires something very much, use the power of first… and then to make him or her to do what you want first (eg dressing, washing, tidying up toys, doing homework etc.) and then give or let him or her do what he/she requested before. Do not mess with an autistic child! Keeping your promise is vital otherwise… well… you probably already know what to expect…

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