N is for Nonfunctional Routines | #atozchallenge #autism

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Before I had a child of my own, I had the privilege of baby sitting and being an aunt. My two oldest nieces are girly girls who likes anything pink and frilly. When they were little, the girls had tons of toys which were put away after they were done playing. But, they played good and messy. Mounds of dolls, clothes and other accessories littered the floors. Crayons, coloring pages and art supplies covered the little tables in their rooms. There were a few times they got into big trouble for not picking up after themselves.

Then, I had my own child. I was prepared to step on Legos, find little army men all over the house, and to step in Play Dough from time to time. Imagine my surprise when my little one didn’t make messes or lose puzzle pieces.


Instead, he was deliberate about everything—even playtime. When he took out his cars he lined them up by color, type and size. Even when he placed them on the “city” rug with streets and neighborhoods, he organized everything. It was like watching a little engineer at work.

I chalked it up to just being his personality. Then the other symptoms surfaced and his meticulously organized play was attributed to autism. The therapist told me that his behavior was nonfunctional routines.

Nonfunctional. I guess that might be a big word. Couple it with the word routines it sounds like some strange classification concocted in a laboratory. According to Autism Speaks nonfunctional routines are

specified, sequential, and apparently purposeless repeated actions or behaviors that a child engages in, such as always lining up toys in a certain order each time instead of playing with them. Children with ASD may follow routines that appear to be senseless, but may have significance to the child.

In addition to my son playing neatly, there were other rituals that he had to complete to make his day easier. He wouldn’t eat anything that was already broken—donuts, crackers, bread. It had to be whole. If there were three things on his plate he needed three different utensils. He played around other children instead of with them. And the list goes on.

We all have quirky behaviors. However, paying attention to our children’s behavior can help us better understand them and their needs. So, the next time your child absolutely has to take a glass of water into the bathroom with him to brush his teeth LET HIM. Or, if he wants to wear sweatpants to school on Wednesdays … LET HIM.

Sometimes it can be about power struggles with children. I can’t always let my son wear gym shorts to school but on the days it is too cold for shorts, I can let him wear jogging pants instead of shorts. I don’t have to force him to wear jeans or what I want him to wear. He can be himself while establishing trust with me and learning how to make good choices. If it is a routine, I just get him up a little bit earlier so he can do everything he needs to do in order to have a good day.

How organized is your child’s play?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” If you click on the link and purchase the item; I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Makasha Dorsey is an award-winning author, motivational speaker and public relations professional. Her personal essay Diary of an Aspie Mom is included in The Motherhood Diaries (Strebor Books/Simon & Schuster). She blogs about being a writer, mother, wife, woman and Christian over at a wife in progress and has written for Absolute Write, The Midwest Book Review, Snaps1000Words, The Daily Times Leader, and ModVive Magazine. You can purchase a copy of her book First Family Secrets on Amazon.com.

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