When my son first went to see an Occupational Therapist, she made him draw out a schedule to take home. Needless to say it got ripped up the second we walked in our front door. Years later, I was again told how important “routines” are for autistic children, though what we were presented with was yet again a schedule. And this time we politely declined to write one up.
What they both failed to understand is that “routine” is not just another name for “schedule”. Schedules are basically timetables. You do this thing at that time for this long. Usually involving some kind of chart with the days of the week written on it. And usually dictated by others. Not something anyone I know is fond of.
Routines are more like habits. Things you do on certain days and at certain times of day, but not to the minute. Like, you may have a morning routine, where you do things in the same order each time. Like have breakfast after getting dressed. Or a bedtime routine which helps you wind down for sleep. I do think routines can be helpful, especially for people who need order in their days, but I cannot stress enough that it cannot be imposed by others. When they are, routines are no fun at all and can turn into unhelpful battles.
Much better are rhythms. They are how your days are shaped when you follow things like your circadian rhythms and the seasons and the natural cycles and ups-and-downs of daily life. They are more spontaneous, depending on when you happen to wake up or feel hungry or tired. They are about listening to your body and your mood and your emotions and what’s going on around you. And they are much more flexible than either routines or schedules. They encourage interoception and flexible thinking and all those other things autistics apparently struggle with.
Flow is something else entirely and is the pinnacle of this little hierarchy I have formed in my head. They are when you are so immersed in what you’re doing that all concept of time goes out the window. They are that magical space when the ultimate creativity occurs. And when flow occurs, rhythms get altered and routines and schedules get forgotten.
So, instead of harping on about schedules and routines, I’d encourage people to find their own rhythms and try and enter their flow. Because flow is where the happiness is.