How do I set up a schedule with my Autistic child?

Today, I had a parent who was struggling with their child as they had been told to create a schedule for their Autistic child to follow on a regular basis. They were told that Autistic kids need a schedule and like routine and things to be the same. They started it and it was the worst day ever. No one bothered to share how to create the schedule so she had designed a schedule with the times and for each subject they would do for school today. The schedule had 8-8:15: get materials ready. 8:15-9:00 Composition. #1, they had exact times. Autistic kids expect if you give a certain amount of time that you are going to start at exactly 8 and be done with getting materials ready at exactly 8:15 and then if you go one second past 9:00, they are focused on why they aren’t starting the activity, which in this case was math at 9. You can’t just set a schedule and not follow it.

Her son had everything ready for school at 8:10 and then didn’t know what to do until 8:15. She wanted to just start composition but he started with, no, composition starts at 8:15, not 8:10. Eventually from there it just went down hill as he was watching the clock for 9:00. Composition is challenging as it is and now we have a set time of when it starts and begins. He is completely stressed out and suddenly his behavior was declining as 9 approached and they had not finished what they started at 8:15. Can’t move on but must move forward. This was quite a delima and now he is banging his head and shaking his body up and down while screaming. Mom says, “They said put him on a schedule so I did, this was the worst ever.”

After taking a minute to cry and having her take a couple of deep breaths, she shared her story. Yes, he needs a schedule and wants it, but we have to give him something that won’t stress him out. You don’t want him watching the clock. Create a schedule that shows the agenda but don’t attach times to it. Make sure you include some breaks and lunch but don’t place any times. Create realistic items to complete and an order, but no times. If he starts something, he is not going to want to stop until it is finished. You may want to even create a schedule that he sees an agenda for the first half of the day and then you can adjust after lunch to create the rest of the day. He needs the structure but let’s not stress him out with times. Just list:

Prepare for class
Writing Lesson 1
Math Lesson 3

You will also want to create some type of plan for introducing change in plan. He needs a visual cue. Something that you can show him, a card with a particular picture or star, something that says things have changed. He needs to know that this symbol, card, visual cue shows that he has a change coming in the schedule and we need to prepare for it. That way if something comes up and you are going to not do Literature, but instead eat lunch because Writing and Math took too long, you can show the visual cue and give him a second to prepare for the change in schedule, then share what that change is. They like this. It helps them not stress over a change in schedule.

Wouldn’t we all like to know when something out of the ordinary is going to be thrown at us. None of us like when someone throws a dagger in our day, but for them it is like a bomb just blew up in their face.


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Lynnette Crawley M.S. Ed

As an educational consultant, I work with families, students, adults, parents, teachers, schools and corporations in relationship to the many disabilities affecting their lives. Many times all anyone needs is a little coaching, direction or tools to close the gap between where they are and where they should be. Making progress is not good enough. We must be closing the gap. Email:

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