How to Set Daily Routine Expectations

If you have a autistic child, you are likely familiar with the difficulties that can stem from a disruption to your family's everyday routine. More often than not, autistic children thrive best when a consistent schedule is in place where the child knows what to expect from each part of the day. For many families…

autism therapist working with child

If you have a autistic child, you are likely familiar with the difficulties that can stem from a disruption to your family’s everyday routine. More often than not, autistic children thrive best when a consistent schedule is in place where the child knows what to expect from each part of the day. For many families switching to virtual schooling presents challenges in the way that it changes the child’s usual schedule and environment during school hours.

While adjusting to working and schooling from home are a challenge for most, it is arguably more difficult for autistic individuals.

With this in mind, we’d like to share a tip about helping your child to set their daily routine. Whether your family’s routine is very consistent, or you encounter a few changes along the way, this useful strategy can help prepare your child to navigate their day more successfully.

Visual Schedule for autistic children
Simple layout of a visual schedule with Velcro to place tasks under a “to do” or “finished” column.

Create a Daily Routine Calendar with Rearrangeable Tasks

No matter what changes you may face in your daily routine, a rearrangeable routine calendar can be an excellent way to start your morning to set your child’s expectations for what the day will entail. Not only will it help to set expectations, creating this daily schedule together will naturally become a routine your child learns to expect every morning and throughout scheduled parts of their day.

Materials you’ll need:

  1. Camera (a cell phone camera will do just fine!)
  2. A printer & paper or access to print your photos (i.e. your local drugstore most likely prints photos within 24 hours)
  3. Poster board(s)
  4. Peel and stick labels
  5. Marker
  6. Envelope


  1. Self-seal laminating sheets or access to your local office supply store’s lamination services. This option will allow your schedule to last longer and to withstand daily use.
  2. Velcro strips with adhesive

Step 1: Create a list of daily routine tasks

Break down the tasks your child performs each day into a list

For example, your morning list may include getting up, going to the bathroom, bathing, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, and getting dressed. Depending on your child’s needs, more or less detail may be needed for each task you create. Perhaps your child needs to be reminded to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, or that brushing their teeth means a full 2 minutes of brushing. Maybe your child needs less detail because they’re already a pro at getting ready in the morning! In this case, just include a few general tasks with terminology they’ll understand to plan their morning. Breakup the day into natural categories based on your child’s schedule. This could be detailed to your unique schedule or as simple as:

  • Morning routine – use the bathroom, brush teeth, get dressed
  • School – class, snack break, class, lunch
  • Afternoon routine – speech therapy, playtime, homework
  • Bedtime – bathe, brush teeth, pajamas

Don’t worry about your list being perfect yet, or even sharing this list with your child. The purpose of this list is strictly for you to ensure you’ve captured every activity your child will need to note as a part of their daily routine. Depending on your schedule each day may be different. Weekdays will most likely have different routines than weekends. Certain days may have different activities as well.

Step 2: Use stock images or photos of your child performing each routine task

We recommend using images or photos at the same orientation, whether vertical or horizontal. This will be cleaner to organize on your final calendar and for storage purposes.

This will likely be the most time-consuming portion of the project. Don’t feel pressure to get this project done in a day or even a couple days. Do remember however, that the time you put into creating this schedule will most certainly pay off! If you put time into creating a quality schedule, it’s something that could last you years with minimal maintenance as new routines come into your child’s life.

If you are using photos of your child, an ideal time to take photos is during the natural order each task takes place. If you need to get a photo of your child brushing their teeth, for example, take the photo at a time that’s natural in their routine to brush their teeth. Asking them to brush their teeth at a time they’re not used to may cause an unanticipated interruption to the routine they were expecting that day.

Make sure the photos you capture clearly communicate the tasks your child will need to accomplish throughout their routine.


Alternative example of a visual schedule. Photo courtesy of Anglophone South School District (ASD-S) website for Early Childhood Services

Step 3: Print and label images or photos

Go through each photo with your child and decide how to label the task the photo shows. Write the task name on the label and adhere the label to the top or bottom of the image or photo.

Step 4 (Optional): Laminate your labeled images or photos

While this exercise will work just as well whether your labeled images or photos are laminated or not, laminating will last longer. Consider that these photos may get thrown, stepped on, spilled on, or bent. It may take a little extra time and money but will save you time and money in the long run.

Step 5: Create your calendar layout

Use poster board and a marker to create the layouts of the empty calendar. There are typically two styles of schedules that are often used. One style includes lining up the images or photos in a straight line going downwards with an envelope labeled All Done for the child to insert completed routines. The other style includes a mirrored side of the schedule that has an All Done label to the top right side of the schedule. Once a routine is completed, the child can move the image or photo to the immediate right side. Consider how many routines your child typically has across the day to determine how long or wide your schedule should be

Step 6: Add the adhesive Velcro to the backs of the images or photos with the other side of the Velcro attached to the posterboard.

Add one side of the Velcro to the calendar in each spot you’d like your child to add their ordered tasks for the day. Again, keep in mind the size of each photo so that photos don’t overlap each other once they’re applied to the calendar.

Step 7: Consider how involved your child will be with their schedule and how to reinforce them for successfully completing a routine.

If your child is more likely to complete routines by assisting in creating the schedule each morning, encourage them to assist you and provide choices when it’s appropriate for various routines. For instance, they could have a choice on whether they brush their teeth or get dressed first. Consider what is most reinforcing to your child. Does your child respond to high fives, hugs, swinging them around stickers, or a small piece of a snack? When following a schedule is new, ensure that you are reinforcing your child immediately following your child successfully completing the routine. As your child continues to show success and begins to complete the routine consistently, begin to decrease how often you are reinforcing your child and try to use more natural reinforcers such as verbal praise (i.e. €œawesome job€).

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