“Needing Structure” — What Does That Mean?

Re: Autistic people (especially children) and structure —

Based on my own experiences and those of other Autistic people with whom I’ve conversed about this issue, it’s not usually structure or schedules, per se (on their own), that help us the most. Yet predictability can be an important support for us, especially when we’re children.

Even the most radically unschooled of children (a tiny minority of children in the USA) still have far less control over their lives when compared to adults. And when I don’t have control of my plans or schedule, I do best when they’re at least as predictable as possible so I can be prepared.

In group environments I do pretty well with strict schedules because I just do what everyone else does and I don’t have to think about it, which frees up my executive functioning for other endeavors. I especially like it when there are printed itineraries with times and places and explanations of what’s expected and when.

I suspect that my time spent in schools would’ve been far more bearable and productive if my teachers had given me a written schedule of what to expect each day. Such schedules could be made with pictures for pre-readers and could even include such info as what expected behavior might be during each activity.

However, schedules and overt structure at home are stressful for me because then I feel as though I have to perfectly follow them (which isn’t practical). As a child, a general idea of, “after lunchtime is a great time to have some quiet reading/nap time” or “we usually go to the park after doing x” was very helpful in keeping my days simpler and more predictable.

My Autistic children especially like to have a general idea of our next day’s activities before bedtime so that they can be prepared and enjoy things more easily.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are from having little routines. Not from having my day very structured, but by having small predictable patterns which I often still employ in my adult life.

These little routines are things such as listening to a certain song before taking a bath, always having lunch while sitting in the same seat, being aware of the general flow of my day well ahead of time through planning, and similar activities that provide structural supports without hemming me into a rigid schedule.

Life is unpredictable enough. It is well worth my effort in order to make life a little more predictable for myself and my children however I can manage it.

For us this typically means that we try to have a kind of “flow” to our days with little routines built in. This does not mean that we hold ourselves to a rigid schedule. We especially do not impose schedules on each other any more often than it’s absolutely necessary, such as for outside activities and appointments, which we try to keep to a minimum whenever possible.

Support, by my definition, should lift others up and helps them function as well as possible under the circumstances, which may be otherwise very unpredictable.

2 thoughts on ““Needing Structure” — What Does That Mean?

  1. Interesting to hear your take on this. I guess that everyone’s interpretation of structure and routine is slightly different, depending on the individual. I used to read about autistic people needing structure and attachment to routine etc. and think ‘but I’m not like that’. But then I think, what is the opposite of routine? Things happening spontaneously! Arrgh! The horror!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was advised to write a schedule for my son, long before he was diagnosed. As soon as he saw it, he ripped it up! Even the mention of the word “schedule” is enough to set him off. Nowadays if I make a schedule I make sure to tell him it’s for me, not him. Yet he has his own routines that he doesn’t like to deviate from. Like going to sleep as close to 11.30 pm as possible. I try to give him advance notice of what we’re going to do each day, but never have a rigid schedule in mind.

    Liked by 2 people

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