By: Waverly Ann Harris

How do you feel when you get off your routine? Do you feel frustrated because it’s hard to get things done, even if you know they are important? Do you feel like each decision is harder because there are more distractions? Routines help us get into a stride. It is a structure that cuts down on decision-making because we make a majority of decisions once we create the routine. We use routines to train our mind and our body on what to expect and how to behave. When we hit that stride, our mind and our body work better in sync and we feel better throughout the day. 


For individuals who struggle with Executive Function, their day can be hijacked by overthinking decisions as simple as what to wear or what to eat for breakfast. They can get lost in the order of each step, often creating chaos for them and those around them.  


Every adult has hundreds of things to think about each day and many decisions to make, large and small.  Those decisions are multiplied if you have family members who live with you, such as a spousechildren or other family members. As a parent or sibling of an adult with IDD (intellectual and/or developmental disability) you take on a whole new set of thoughts, fears, and many more decisions. Routines create simplicity, and we can all use more simplicity in our lives.  

When creating a routine for an individual with IDD, it is critical that the person is included in the decisions. They may lack the ability to create the routine for themselves, but it will not be successful, or give the person the dignity they deserve, if they don’t have autonomy in creating the routine. Be sure to ask the individual what is important to him/her and build in responsibilities, as well as motivation and preferred activities.  


Routines can include checklists and planners that help the individual stay on task and be as independent as possible throughout the day. It should also build in natural reinforcement after completing weekly responsibilities. For example, make Saturdays “free days,” with a list of preferred activities that are chosen each Saturday and can be fulfilled if requested.  Be sure to have a code word for changes in routine, such as “Wild Card Day” that will let everyone know that the normal routine will have to change. Let the individual know what to expect on that day and when the routine will resume.  


Examples include:  


Rituals are similar. They can create simplicity and train the mind and the body to be in sync, creating sense of calm and balance. Morning rituals and nighttime rituals are the most common. Waking up at the same time each morning to exercise for 20 minutes, reading the paper while drinking coffee, and playing a favorite song while brushing teeth or showering, etc. are all examples of a morning ritual. Night rituals may include baths with lavender oil, prayer, yoga or meditation, and any other ritual that helps train the body to relax and end the day.  


For yoga and meditation led by Jason Latham at Friends Life Community, click HERE for mornings, HERE for evenings, and HERE for stress


Individuals who have different Executive Functioning are also likely to have different wake/sleep patterns. It may not be possible for someone to alter his/her schedule if they are naturally up all night and asleep during the day, and they may need extra support in setting a routine that works. 


Rituals also help us recognize and overcome bad habits and replace them with alternative activities that help us acclimate better to the situation. For example, many of us enjoy unwinding at the end of a long day in front of the TV or on mindless social media. However, this can often overstimulate the brain and make it harder to sleep. A bath, reading, or listening to a podcast may provide the same unwinding that we are looking for, but without as much stimuli.