Providing Sameness and Routine While Living In Unfamiliar Surroundings

Many children with special needs thrive in an environment with a high degree of predictability, sameness and routine. In the aftermath of a natural disaster life is anything but what our kids need to succeed. Often entire families, neighborhoods or communities are in the flux of confusion, chaos and change and will be for quite some time to come. Putting sameness and routine back into your child’s life as quickly as possible will be helpful. How can you do that when you have no idea what life will hold for you and your family in the days ahead? Here is one simple strategy that can be used in many different ways:

Visually mark what belongs to your child. You can do this with masking tape, stickers or a washable marker. When everything is new and living spaces are suddenly shared it becomes difficult for children to understand boundaries. I wore a roll of masking tape around my wrist for several days while in a shelter. I used it in a variety of ways. The more I used it, the more my children came to understand that when they saw the tape it meant “this belongs to me” or “this is where I can be.”

Visually Define Space:

  • Put tape on the floor to define boundaries of your family’s sleeping space, your child’s play space, etc.
  • Put a blanket or sheet on the floor to visually define a play or homework space, knowing that while the actual place to play or do homework may change, the sheet or blanket can be a constant.
  • I put tape on the chair where my kids could sit for meals – the chair was always a different chair and in a different spot, but putting a piece of tape on it right before my child sat on it visually defined the space and provided a sameness and routine of sorts.
  • One child was so disorganized as to need a piece of tape on his plate and cup in order to eat and drink.
  • If using unfamiliar bathrooms are problematic get and use a potty chair. Put tape on the potty chair if needed. Great if the potty chair can be used in the bathroom, but in reality it is more important that your child use the potty chair than where the potty chair is located.

Visually Mark Belongings:

  • Staying hydrated is more important than eating solid food in the short term. If bottled water is provided try to get a half dozen of the same bottles to keep. Each day the kind of bottled water available may change. If you are using tape, stickers or markers put them on these bottles of water. When the bottles are empty you can refill them from differently labeled bottle water if necessary in order for your child to accept it as something that belongs to him and increase the likelihood he will stay well hydrated.
  • Children may, out of necessity, need to get used to a whole new wardrobe all at once. Some things that may be helpful when choosing from the clothing immediately available include choosing the softest fabrics (second hand clothing often is more acceptable on sensitive skin than new clothing). Sweat suits in cold weather or t-shirt/short sets in hot weather can serve as both clothing and pjs eliminating the need for your child to change out of pjs if that is an issue. Many times new clothing will be donated at shelters. If possible choose several days worth of the same outfit for your child. This means he will have many days of new clothes, but each outfit is exactly the same. If purchasing new clothing several of the same outfit in different colors may be helpful in that your child will have several outfits that all feel the same to wear. Sweat suits or t-shirt/short sets can eventually become pjs in the weeks ahead as you introduce new outfits for daytime wear.
  • If your child has become used to having things marked with tape or markers you might also mark his clothes so he can feel like he is indeed wearing his own clothes, as evidenced by the tape or marker spot. These markings can be placed on the front inside hem or on the outside if necessary for your child to have it visible without needing to flip the hem over to check. Put the same mark in the same place on every outfit.
  • When your child receives toys, books or personal care items such as toothbrush and comb you can also mark these items to visually identify to your child that these items belong to him.

These are but a few ideas to get you started in bringing some predictability, sameness and routine back to your child even when, in reality, there seems to be no anchor in your daily life just now. Visually defining space and marking belongings can go a long way in helping your child make sense of the confusion, chaos and change that comes with picking up the pieces after a natural disaster.



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Originally written for and published by Ollibean on October 16, 2016.
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