Life in repeat mode One of the questions I am often asked when people know my son has autism is “Oh he’ll like his routine then?” I am partially annoyed that people jump to conclusions but pleased at the same time that at least there is some awareness around autism. For the record, Joseph does like some routine but I blame that on him being my son. I like routine, I like plans, I like organisation. He was born into a world of organisation, it was inevitable it would happen. Some of the first questions asked by healthcare professionals around particular milestones when they were querying autism: “How many words does he have in his vocabulary?” “Does he point?” “Does he like routine?” I stopped myself from launching myself at the 16th person who had asked me these questions and responded politely. All through pregnancy you are prepped for this impending bundle of joy and have it drummed into you about the importance of routine. It’s good for baby, allegedly, and then all of a sudden the child who likes routine is being judged for that very same attribute. I love routine. In contrast, if anything is likely to nudge me over the edge it's constantly being asked what we are doing next. And for that I blame visual timetables and the 'First and Then' approach taught to us by the autism communication teams we have been involved with. It is thought that children with autism learn better through visual prompts, and that they assist with everyday tasks such as toileting. For example, we had a strip of symbols that showed a toilet, flushing and washing hands (some adults I know would benefit from this) or we would have pictures to show the order of the day: breakfast, school, shopping, bath, cleaning teeth, bed. It enables a child with autism to cope better with daily tasks. The downside to it is, if you rely too heavily on it and you have to adjust your day, it could cause an increased amount of anxiety for the child deviating from what they have memorised in their heads. Let me be clear on this – I am thankful we were introduced to these strategies to help Joseph deal with situations and prepare him for what the day or week holds. What I dislike is that he doesn't appear to need it as much now, but still harps on about what we are doing for the next few days. Our 'conversations' go something like this: Joseph: We're going to...? Me: Nowhere Joseph: Tomorrow it's Tuesday and we're going to ...? Me: School Joseph: And then? Me: Home Joseph: And then? Me: Dance class Joseph: And then? Me: Bath Joseph: And then? Me: Bed Joseph: And after bed? Me: Get up You can see how this is going can't you? Sometimes I find myself giving a verbal plan for the next seven days before I even know I've done it and I know Joseph wouldn't stop there if I continued. I have visions of myself sat there as a skeleton, muttering to us both “On the first Monday of the month in 2048 Joseph you will be…” One of my favourite dialogues was at the start of the summer holidays. Me: Joseph, no more school for seven weeks. It's the school holidays. (I don't think he actually understands what seven weeks means) Joseph: And then? Me: Well, back to school Joseph: No more back to school! (Every so often, I respond to Joseph I'M NOT ANSWERING THE QUESTION AGAIN! and throw my own strop before he walks up to me, tells me to smile and then I fall into the trap of rattling off what we are doing for the forthcoming two days.) It's quite possible he does actually need this and he has a desire to know in full our life plans but even if I tell him once that day, I get asked at least another 42 times. And it drives me bloody nuts. I'm not even aware that I've been suckered into it sometimes, as it forms a huge chunk of our daily lives and I do it without even being conscious of it. There is no doubting that Joseph likes routine but, in all honesty, my strategy, my not following an exact pattern has worked for us. He does like to know what he’s doing and he does sometimes get upset if we don’t do something he wants, but no longer to the point that it completely ruins our day. I always said that I wanted him to be able to function without such rigidity and feel confident that we have achieved this to some extent. He no longer falls to pieces if we don't do dance class followed by bath. He doesn’t throw a royal wobbly if we actually throw caution to the wind and go to bed without having a bath. We can make changes and the world doesn’t end, even if it is something I had already told him we were doing twenty-teen times! I am often told that I am a good planner and organiser and like to know everything in advance... well maybe some of Joseph's traits aren't anything to do with his autism and could just be that he's a slightly smaller version of me. So what are we doing tomorrow then? Tina is mum to Joseph, an eight year-old boy with autism, started blogging about their experiences a year ago as Joseph and his Amazing Spectrum Coat. She tries to be honest about her feelings and experiences, sharing the highs and lows of their journey and the emotional rollercoaster they are on. Tina has recently been shortlisted for a BAPs Newcomer Blogging Award.