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What is Block Scheduling for Autism?
I’m sure you’re all killing it. So today, I’m going to chat a little bit about block scheduling, which is kind of the idea that we need to stop trying to schedule our day hour to hour and move to the idea of scheduling block to block.
And it’s a pretty crazy time right now, there’s a lot of extra pressure around, balancing work and childcare around the financial stresses of not being able to work outside the home, and just trying to make sure everybody’s needs are met as well as possible, and still meet the demands of work and those kinds of things.
And homeschooling and keeping kids occupied and meeting their needs is a full-time job. Even with neuro-typical low dependency kids, even with kids who can, who can physically work independently. Um, but with kiddos on the spectrum I did is much higher.
Independence is much lower. And meeting their needs could be a really overwhelming challenge. In this workshop, I’m going to talk about, block scheduling for creating structure. But without putting in kind of really rigid times, as well as taking the pressure off, trying to balance work and childcare and, looking after the home, but also, to promote independence, for our kiddos on the spectrum.
And it’s a way for us as caregivers to really focus on the team and time. Yes, so one of the key things about this method is uni-tasking. We do one thing at a time and we are not focusing on the next thing until the next lot comes.
WHY DO YOU NEED TO BLOCK OUT YOUR DAY?
So we’re going to move on to, the theory behind it. So, Oh, this is my beautiful little visual that I’ve made for you all. Which is that sort of chunking up of the day into big patches rather than kind of hour by hour things we need to get done? And the, Oh, can everybody hear me?
Wave if you can hear me? Here we go wave oh you guys are the best. Thank you. Sorry. The plumbers of luxury are not to timeline every little item. It’s not to get a, give time to every little task because in my experience, that kind of super rigid regime, it’s going to fail anyway.
Yeah. And we don’t want to set ourselves up for failure because we’ve already got enough pressure going on right now. So block scheduling is the idea that we’re going to take blocks of time in our day, and set them aside for specific groups of tasks.
So that’s going to ease the pressure of feeling like we can’t get everything done because we know that there’s a chunk later in the day that’s allocated to those particular types of things. So when I say blocks of time, I mean I feel for my own block schedule that about three hours.
It’s kind of the sweet spot of, long enough to get things done, but not so long that you kind of lose motivation and but really, your chunks have to work around obviously your kids, your timetable, your work commitments. But I think anywhere, two, three, four hours for a chunk is gonna work great to dedicate to one type of task. So apart from, meal blocks, which are going to be a little bit shorter between one, one and a half hours.
And so we needed really transition from an hour to hour schedule to a block to block approach and kind of, euphemism or explanation that I like to use is, kind of shifting our mindset back to high school when we would have all these different subjects in a day. But each time the bell rang, you’d shift your brain into that. Right now we’re in math and we do not sort of, we’re not thinking about anything else right now.
We’re in Math everything else has, it’s a lot of time. Um, and we’ll get to that when it’s it’s term kind of thing, which is where, how we really need to shift our minds, to work with block scheduling. So I’m gonna run through an example of what block schedule can look like to organize a day for a typical autism 360 families.
Obviously all families have different needs and abilities to work with. But I think that for the most part, things are gonna look pretty similar. It just depends on the tasks that you allot to each section. So I feel like when we kind of takes our lives, we look back, we see actually my routines are pretty similar.
If the tasks within those routines are gonna changing and now we can just allocate them to a spot where they belong with everything else. So let’s walk through, the structure of a day. Parents will be pretty familiar with a morning block, so obviously the morning block starts in the morning.
That’s when she knows are kind of rising, shining world, stumbling around, looking for our pants and our breakfast and probably trying to get on the TV and look for YouTube and so our morning block pretty naturally occurs, especially if we’re working outside the house or kids are being schooled outside the house is that chunk of time anywhere from, you know, six or seven whenever your kids wake up to nine, nine-thirty, where everyone is getting up, searching for food.
And if we dedicate a big chunk of time today’s tasks, we can focus on what needs to get done. In this chunk of the day. So this block might be the time when we’re focusing on changing your kiddos dressing skills, in those sort of self-care type programs or promoting the kids, or sorry, prompting the kids through the process of independently making breakfast.
But knowing that you’ve allocated other parts of the day, later on, two things like work calls and learning tasks and playing outside means that for this chunk of time, that’s all we’re doing. That’s all we’re doing with just getting up, getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating breakfast.
And there are no hard and fast rules about what’s going to go in this type of book. Do you always empty the dishwasher as soon as you get up?
Right? Put it in the morning block. Do you prefer to wait until the lunch dishes are ready to empty the dishwasher? Perfect. Put it in your lunchtime block. It doesn’t matter. Just give it a spot where it naturally belongs and don’t let those things take up your brain space until it’s their turn.
It’s really about uni-tasking and being efficient with what we’re focusing on. And by the time it’s sort of nine, nine 30, we’re going to pack up, have things, kind of breakfast is done as cleaned away as it can be or not. And we’re going to move on to what most families find is the best chunk of the day for getting kids to attend to learning type tasks.
So after breakfast from like nine 30 ish to about, 10, we’re kind of getting into what I called the learning block, which is, the time of the day when kids are most likely to, the process really well, their attention is going to be better.
And it also mimics the pattern of a school day. So, when kids are being schooled outside the home, who knows when that will be again, but when they are, that’s the pattern of the day. They’re sort of, you know, you’re getting up getting to school 9:00 AM class starts sort of thing. And you know, that being said, all families have different ways of engaging with their kiddos learning. And certainly, not everybody is volunteering to become like a full-time home school teacher.
Of all their children kind of thing. It’s you know, lots of ways to teach them that doesn’t involve, you know, going back to uni and getting a teaching degree. There are all kinds of things that we can put in our learning block that, our kiddos are going get stuck out of mean it’s all over the internet.
We’ve all seen it, these sorts of fine motor tasks. My kid is learning, learning the ukulele, or whatever. But things like listening to a podcast about history is a great one. Reading, just letting them read. Is it a learning block is a time to dedicate to those sorts of things?
Equally, something like watching a documentary on bugs and then going outside to look for some bugs. Right. That’s our learning block activity done for the day. And ideally what we would do is create a visual that has some learning type options for our kids and get them to pick.
So, you know, you’ve made up a few little cards with, we could do fine motor, we can do a reading, we could do Mathletics let the kid pick if they’re up to that, if they’re that independent, let them pick because it’s within that appropriate window.
And it’s a learning activity. Got it. Whatever you want kind of thing. Especially because we want to keep a little bit of flexibility, creating really strict routines and where our kiddos get stuck or can get stuck with that inflexibility the rigidities around, stereotype, deep behavior, and sameness.
And we really want to build flexibility in, by giving them a choice and that kind of thing, prompting them to, pick different activities than they usually would and rewarding them for being flexible and changing things up.
So and, and having defined parameters for each chunk of the day is going to help you keep your kids on task, keep them motivated because of like a finite timeline. Allows them to sort of be conceptualizing, okay, this is how long I have to go with this and especially if the less preferred task.
If they’re sort of like, well, you know, okay, I’ll do reading eggs. At least I only have another 20 minutes or something like that. And it really, to create a learning block really takes the pressure off parents to be, you know, creating educational activities every second of the day.
You know, like once learning block is done, you’re done. You know, just dedicate that time to it. You need tasks. We’re only doing that with efficiently getting it done. And then by, 11:30, 12:00, we’re transitioning into our, lunch block and learning is done, don’t worry about it after you’ve given it its time, that’s the whole premise that you don’t have to kind of cool during the day.
Be constantly keeping everything in the back of your mind because that is exhausting and it’s not efficient. You know, we could only, neurologically, we could only do one thing at a time.
Everything else, multitasking doesn’t exist. It’s not a real neurological process. We cannot cognitively pay attention to more than one thing at once. So let’s just focus on one thing and get it done. So lunch block is you know, it’s pretty, pretty self-explanatory but I really find that using meals to break up the chunks of the day is a really effective method because of food intrinsically rewarding.
Humans are wired to sink Food obviously. And so it’s one of the few things that we don’t have to teach the value of. And so because they’re intrinsically motivated to us, it can make transitioning out of particularly preferred, activity, transitioning out of that much easier and especially if, for example, you’re going to be transitioning from a preferred block, same morning block where they’re watching something fun.
Well the least personal favorite, into something less preferred like school block, a snack or breakfast or something, it’s going to kind of sweeten the deal, make the transitions a little bit easier, and make, especially if we’re, you know, we’re really explaining to the kids that we’re moving into chunks of time.
It’s gonna make associate those moving times, the transitions, as a really great thing. Something they really like. So lunch block is, you know, pretty self-explanatory that just prep, eat, clean up the meal. And I really just want to stress that multitasking is cognitively impossible.
We physically cannot cognitively pay attention to more than one thing at once. We can do things that don’t require cognition with something that does, but two things at one’s not physically possible. What we’re actually doing, neurologically is switching rapidly back and forth, paying attention to those things and that impairs our concentration and performance roughly the same amount as being, legally intoxicated or as had he missed an entire night of sleep.
And so it’s a really inefficient way to try and get things done. My point is that in the block with just doing the block, we’re not thinking about other things, and then when it’s time we’re going to move on bringing us to a quiet block.
We love nap block, hands up. If you love nap block, I’m not, I mean, it doesn’t have to involve naps, but I really find that after lunch, especially we all our energy going to digestion and those kinds of things, kids are going to naturally lull a little bit so to make use of that for a few hours, especially if you have pre-school aged kids, that typically nap for an hour or two after lunch.
So, even kids with school-aged children, I would really encourage you to set up a block of a few hours during the day where the behavioral expectation is that they’re going to do something quiet and independent. I mean, I know that not all kids can do that but if there’s any time that I would say was the time to make use screens, for some independent time, this will be it.
If your kiddo can play quietly in the bedroom, read books, do puzzles, uh, for a little bit of time during the quiet block, Then that’s a great way for you to give this time to something that you need to pay attention to that isn’t the kids.
So work emails, a life admin, taking a break, having a nap, kind of, catching up on the things that you need to do. If your child struggles to play independently, which a lot of kids do, my suggestion would be to make an independent play box, which is a box that they only have access to during this time.
That’s got a lot of highly preferred toys in it that you can make available. Just for this quiet block while their sibling is napping, while if you know somebody is reading or on the iPads, a box of open-ended, preferably if they’re up to that stage of play open-ended toys that are gonna keep them engaged but they don’t get access to any other time.
And hopefully, that’ll buy us a little bit of free time to just clear our mind. Have a cup of tea and breath. But because straight after quiet block, we’re going to transition, through afternoon tea.
But please use that reinforcement value of a snack too, transition out, all of that time, and into what I call out outside block. Obviously not everybody has outside time, or outside space rather that they can use.
But I would really suggest a couple of hours before dinner dedicated to really tire them out. This chunk of time is just for gross motor play. That’s and what’s important is to do this kind of before the chunk where you’re getting them ready for bed.
So we want it to be, letting out steam, kind of getting those sensory needs met, challenging, and tiring out our central nervous system to make sure that our bodies are regulated in inner rhythm to get them to bed at the right time. You have to earn your sleep. Children will not sleep if they are not tired, you need to tire them out.
It’s an excellent time for the fam that kind of date mandated family walk. This could be a great time for that. Or bike ride and if you don’t have outside space, totally fine. There’s, you know, a bit Julian resources that you can use for gross motor indoor activities.
The idea is that any moving loads over distance are going where at this central nervous system. And that’s when they feel tired. That’s when they feel like they’ve exerted their energy and we just need anything that’s going to do that.
So my examples would be, pulling all the big cushions off the couch. You know, it’s exhausting when you’re six, and then hauling them all back on again or something like, loading them up with bean bags and then getting them to shovel the bean bags up and down the hallway.
It would be a great use of indoor space too. Tie them out with gross motor type stuff. Yeah, just put them in the garden, let them run around, that kind of thing. But if your kid struggles, struggles with ADHD type tendencies, or sensory seeking type stuff, this needs to be the block where you give them their last, really big, excitatory, sensory input.
So if they are seeking things like spinning, if they’re seeking things, like swinging or vestibular in push, those kinds of things are excitatory. They’re not going to calm or regulate your kid. They’re going to hype them up even further.
So this is the last time in the day that we’re going to give them access to that because after that we’re really needing to bring it, stimulus down to regulate for bed. This is the last time that they’re getting the last block in the day.
That they get that big gross motor in a push because after this we’re transitioning into bedtime and nap block. So dinner block is, you know, self-explanatory as well, just the prep of meals and that kind of thing. And ideally, although, you know, it’s not always possible, If you can do a sort of, self-care type programs that are involved with this sort of thing, ask your coach about it.
Building up skills around meals, self-feeding, stacking the dishwasher, those sorts of things. This walk is when you would practice those kinds of skills. And I would say any school-aged kid can dot with those sorts of practices. It’s not tricky.
Obviously we’re going to make it age-appropriate. And as well as that I would suggest when you’re transitioning the kids from outdoor to indoor for dinner, have an activity ready for them on their table to transition them to, we don’t want, ad blocks to be going from preferred straight into non-preferred.
We’re going to get a lot of push back, a lot of resistance, but if they bought an activity that’s waiting for them on the table that’s readily available, it will make the transition smoother It’s going to keep their attention where it needs to be instead of being distracted by sort of retrieving a toy or finding an activity. And ideally, the dinner block is going to be where we use the screening for the last time in the day.
Have the kids iPads ready for them. If they eat with iPads at the table, that’s totally fine. It’ll make your transition into mealtime easier and giving them access to that, is going to, I mean, it’ll lessen I did, theoretically, it’ll lessen the demand for it in the evening block because the blue as we all know, the blue light is very neuron-ally exciting which means that it’s making it, sending their brains into overdrive.
They get super, engaged by it. It’s like a drug and, they’re never going to be able to sleep well and on time, if you know, the later and later we get to bedtime with the iPads. So ideally meal block, this dinner blockers, when’s the last time they’re going to have access to the screens and bed block is you know, we probably pretty familiar with this kind of thing.
The sort of, putting to bed routine dinner, bath, bed, was how it always went in my household as a kid. And I know that these hours can really be the witching hours, lots of families. I know that for lots of families it’s when our Ritalin has worn off. It’s when our melatonin is kind of about to kick in but it’s that kind of transition time in the middle where kids can really struggle.
And kiddos on the spectrum have much higher incidents of things like insomnia, which I don’t think people talk about enough. But the first thing that the experts say, is that your nighttime routine, your sleep hygiene has to be rock solid.
And it needs to be at the same time every day because it’s about rhythm. It’s about a chemical rhythm that goes, that gets going in their bodies and that responds to light and it responds to the time of day. So the thing is that again, we’re doing, we’re doing mono tasking.
So when it comes to bed block, that’s all we’re doing. We’re just doing dinner bath bed kind of thing. We’re not checking with emails, we’re not trying to clean the kitchen. We’re just trying to be efficient with the process of this particular block so that we can get it out and get it done.
And the more efficiently we can get through the task of getting kids to bed, the more time. Hopefully we’ll have to relax afterward and more than anything your kids need, just your attention. That’s basically it to suit them before bed and make them feel secure and as I said, the incidence of insomnia is much higher and one of the biggest ways to combat that is routine.
So scheduling this bedtime block is going to be, super important for that kind of thing. So the last block that lots of parents find helpful is the night, which is once kids are in bed, sort of seven 30 to eight, to whenever it is that you go to sleep.
It’s your block, finish up the tasks that are going to make tomorrow a little bit easier on you. If it’s, I dunno, laying out your clothes, washing your hair, whatever, and just chilling out.
Is this so important? I can’t stress how important this is to connect with yourself and your and, or your partner at this time. And, just take a minute to be you without the kids. So that is, so a typical chunked up day as you can see, it doesn’t sort of really rigidly prescribed anything in any particular chunk, but it does provide structure for you to get everything done in the day and not feel like you’re totally overwhelmed with tasks.
So now we talked about what a day can look like. Let’s just quickly chat about implementation. And obviously this is going to really depend on where your kid’s ability and age and what’s appropriate for them.
But as much as you, as much as possible, getting your kids engaged is going to increase their compliance with the schedule, talking to them about it, giving them options is going to, make it easier for them to follow along kind of thing.
It’s important to figure out your most basic behavioral expectations for each block. Lay them out in black and white and let the rest go. So, yeah, for example, take the morning block you, in an ideal world, maybe our kids would yeah, make the bed, brushing the teeth in hand, make breakfast, get dressed, etc. etc.
But if that’s not realistic, you need to figure out what your baseline is for getting through the day and let go of everything else. Your baseline for a functional day might be, okay, my kid gets up, takes the nappy off, and has breakfast. That’s it. Like, let go of the rest. Having expectations that are above what is functional to get through your day is going to set you up for frustration and disappointment.
So I would suggest really baselining the behaviors that you need to get through a functional day and starting with those in each chunk before you build up to putting more things in each chunk, lack of morning block sort of thing.
So I’m thinking that the next thing I’m going to talk about is the use of visuals and those sorts of things in creating a block schedule, which is to color-code your physical clock face so that you can communicate with your kids that okay, morning walk is purple.
They use the purple activities that we do and when purple is finished, we’re moving onto a green block. Brain block is a learning block that includes and you know, X, Y, and Z tasks. And a few tasks that we’ve color-coded as a sort of brain tasks that can, that your kid can pick out to put in each particular block.
Is it really a nice visual way to chunk up the day that kids, especially kids who are sort of prenumeric preliterate are going to be able to understand going to visualize and that sort of thing.
And lastly, make things easy for yourself and put alarms on. So, I work from home, but I also work in clinical practice. So I need to allocate chunks of the day to doing paperwork for that. I’m doing paperwork for obviously this, autism 360 but I’m really bad at transitioning myself.
So I have set myself chunks of the day when admin tasks for each of those things need to get done and I’ve got an alarm to each of those times to make sure that I’ve got time, the age of those things. So make it easy for yourself when you have chunked up your day into what’s gonna work for your family.
Put an alarm, put an alarm for your alarm. Give yourself a 10-minute warning that in a second we’re transitioning out of morning block and into learning block.
And also, give your kids warning and it will make the whole, process smoother if it’s coming from an external source, having those alarm in is going to remind you, right, I’ve got to get X, Y and Z did before we moved into morning block.
Now that’s it for this kind of thing. I’ve made, a little as, yeah, this is my little visual that I like to sort of use with families as a this is just basic so that people can get an idea of, okay, these are the times we’re going to allocate to each type of activity. And then we can personalize it from there. So, that’s it. And this is gonna be available as a principal resource if that’s going to be helpful for you. And we can pop it up on the learning portal as well.