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Routine vs. Unpredictability

Posted Jun 13 2009 12:24am

I wrote the other day about the importance of schedules and routines for my children, both those with and without disabilities. I said “I believe that for children with special needs, such a structure and routine to their days helps cut down on anxiety and meltdowns.” However, no matter how organized I am, no matter how much I try to stick to schedules and routines, there will be times in our family life when such strict adherence just won’t work. And, there should be times when surprise and spontaneity are part of our life. Otherwise we would just be rather boring people, wouldn’t we? My problem is figuring out the balance – how to achieve the peace and security of routines while still leaving room for unplanned fun in our lives.

I watched a show on TLC (The Learning Channel) this weekend called “Jon & Kate Plus 8”. It’s the story of a family with one set of twins and sextuplets. I adore Kate and her organizational skills as well as her seemingly calm attitude when trying to corral 8 kids. It makes my life look like a piece of cake.

On the particular episode I was watching, Jon and Kate were taking the twin girls on a trip to New York to the American Girl store. The sextuplets had been left with babysitters. As Jon and Kate did their best to shuffle the twins from train to cab to walking and finally into the store, I could see the beginnings of meltdowns brewing in the girls’ faces. I, the rest of the viewers, and a bunch a New Yorkers didn’t have long to wait for the full-blown meltdowns to begin. At that point, Kate says into the camera “and this is why running your life completely by routine and schedules is not always a good idea.” Her twin girls were having a very tough time coping with the ‘fun’ in their lives. The new places, the new food at lunch, the strange people, the rush to move, was all just too much for children whose lives are normally structured by the clock, a clock which offers no surprises. And that is my dilemma. Unfortunately, neither Kate nor Jon offered any suggestions or clues as to how they would handle things differently in the future, if they even would.

Is an occasional meltdown an acceptable price to pay for the peace of consistency and routine? What do you think? Do any of you have a solution or a way to achieve a balance between the two extremes?
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