Routines and structure are important for all children, but they can be especially beneficial for children with special needs. Routines help special needs children do better with everyday tasks, give them a sense of confidence in their ability to handle daily life and can be used to help the child meet developmental milestones through early intervention.
Benefits of Structure
Children in general benefit from having a daily routine because it's easier for a child to handle all the changing activities of a typical day if he has some idea of what will happen next. This is even more important for a special needs child. Many special needs children feel overwhelmed by daily activities such as brushing teeth or changing a diaper. According to an article by the Family Information Network, a daily schedule of activities with predictable routines for each activity can make the world seem less chaotic and frightening for the special needs child.
Transition routines are routines designed to make it easier for the special needs child to move from one activity to another. For instance, if nap time usually comes after playtime, you can play sleepy music to signal the end of playtime and the beginning of nap time. When the sleepy music comes on, you can say "time to pick up all the toys before nap-time." By following the same transition routine every time, you can reduce the likelihood of a meltdown or a power struggle, according to an article on the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension website.
Specialists in caring for special needs children use routines as a method of early intervention to address whatever developmental delays the child has. According to an article published in "Dimensions of Early Childhood," combining the intervention with the child's daily routine can make it far more effective compared to therapies that occur only during office visits. For instance, the parent of a child with delayed language development could say the same phrase every time she changes the child's diaper so he learns to associate those words with the activity.
Routines can be especially effective during playtime because the child is more likely to be fully engaged in the activity. According to the article in "Dimensions of Early Childhood," play routines are among the most effective ways to help special needs children develop new skills. For instance, a specialist trying to teach a child how to feed himself might design a play routine in which the child is asked to mimic the act of eating using a toy bowl and spoon. By playing this game every day using the same set of steps every time, the child should start to develop the ability to eat with a spoon.