Some people are thrill-seekers — they feel most alive when experiencing the unexpected. Some of us (hand raised) are worriers, avoiding all things unpredictable, but managing for the most part. Most kids with ADHD fall somewhere in the middle. They may not seek out dangerous activities for the thrill, but they feel most adept when there’s excitement and a thrilling pace. Yet, on the other side of that coin, they need predictability to manage their weaknesses.
My son, Ricochet, desperately needs predictability. A last-minute change in schedule was a sure-fire prescription for a meltdown when he was younger. Now, at age 12, it spoils his mood and his ability to handle anything else outside his preset expectations for the day, but doesn’t always lead to a meltdown. I’ve known routine and structure are crucial for kids with ADHD for years now. I’ve tried to post a weekly schedule off and on for years now (yes, I’m not the perfect mom either, the schedule isn’t often priority as it should be, sadly). That way Ricochet can consult the schedule and know what to expect for the week. Since I don’t always get the schedule posted, I make sure to discuss the day’s schedule each morning.
As demands on his executive functioning have multiplied as he gets older, his ability to handle something outside a rote schedule of the utmost predictability has dwindled. For example, Ricochet expects to go straight home after school every day. As you can imagine, with appointments for special needs, a household to run, and work obligations, that can’t always happen. There’s often an ugly shift in mood and behavior if it doesn’t, especially if I didn’t warn him about an afternoon stop that morning.
In Ricochet’s mind, the weekday sequence is: school > home > 30 minutes of free time > homework > more free time > dinner (at home) > empty dishwasher (except Mondays, which is his day off, no matter how badly the dishes need to be done or how many other days off he’s had) > shower (every other night) > more free time > electronics off at 8:30 pm > reading in bed > lights out at 9 pm. Any deviation from this sends what little control he has over himself and his life out the window, and can send him into a spiral.
So, what can be done to help our kids with ADHD with predictability and routine? Implement these strategies:
- Make sure you prepare your child for all upcoming events, activities, shopping excursions, visitors, etc. Even more importantly, let them know about changes as early as possible. There’s no, “Buddy, I forgot to tell you that we can’t go swimming with your friend this morning,” unless you want to endure an epic meltdown.
- Set a schedule. As I detailed above, Ricochet has certain expectations for the flow of his day. If at all possible for your family, set the same skeletal schedule, e.g., Homework is at 4 pm. Dinner is at 6:30 pm. Bedtime is at 9 pm. Etc… If you can pull that off, life with your child with ADHD, as well as for your child with ADHD, will be easier (notice I said easIER, not easy).
- Create routines for frequent tasks. Getting ready for school in the mornings will go better 95% of the time if you follow the exact same routine every morning. The same for bedtime.
The bottom line is that you are setting expectations. When expectations are met, a child with ADHD (a chaotic mind) will feel some control. Setting expectations through predictability, structure, and routine is the key to effectively raising a child with ADHD.
[Note: You will see a lot of similarities to Aspergers Syndrome of High-Functioning Autism in the behaviors I outlined above. As well, this type of structure and predictability is widely advised for kids on the autism spectrum. As you learn more about ADHD, you’ll see there are many overlaps and parallels between the two disorders.]