Finding the Joy in Routine as the Mom of a Teenager With Autism


Most days we manage to stay on task and in the moment. We get up, brush our teeth, find or don’t find our shoes and clothes and favorite hat. We catch the bus and the carpool, go our separate ways for a few hours, and regroup for the afternoon’s festivities of snacks, sports, homework, dinner, showers (maybe), sleep and the dream of doing it all over again.

It’s our very own version of the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which Bill Murray gets stuck repeating the same day over and over again. But for our family of four kids and a dog, as long as we stick to the schedule and no one gets hurt, I have come to realize Groundhog Day has its perks.

Many parents will report that kids thrive on a predictable routine. As a parent of a teenager with autism, I know some kids take “routine” to a whole other level.

In our kitchen we have a dry-erase board, and every night at my daughter Erin’s prompting, I write the schedule for the next day. She smiles and claps her hands in delight as I record what time the bus will arrive, what time it will deliver her home, what classes or activities lay in store, will there be visitors or guests, will there be a trip to the library or CVS or the grocery store. A regular routine brings comfort and joy — and there is magic in the mundane.

I’m not a planner by nature. In fact, in my former life there was nothing I relished more than a day that held nothing more than possibility. Erin, 14, and her younger brothers to an extent, have conditioned me to understand and embrace the merits of routine, and have taught me how tricky life can be when we veer off course.

While other kids celebrate a snow or vacation day, Erin, and I by extension, grow anxious. I frantically scribble a list of the minutiae: wake up, feed Pablo (the dog), eat breakfast, brush our teeth, watch a show, read a book, go for a walk, bake cookies. I insert a lot of smiley faces throughout in an effort to reassure this uncharted terrain is OK, it is manageable and we will get through.

But unavoidable are the days and moments that defy routine and my smiley faces.

Last night, the boys brought up “the future.”

mom and daughter hugging each other
Eileen and her daughter Erin

In some families, I imagine this is an easy topic. Kids everywhere like to ponder: Where will I live? Who will I be? But in our home, this line of hypothetical questioning inevitably leads to shaky ground.

While there’s a possibility my son Jay may not ever play in the NBA, there’s also a possibility that Erin will never live independently. With the boys I feel confident in my hopes that they will one day find a job and friends and live on their own or with someone who loves them. Erin — I don’t know and I have no real answers to her brothers’ questions: Who will she live with? Who will take care of her? Will they be nice to her?

She will be safe and happy and cared for,” I tell them — but I don’t know if this is true.

What I do know is what Erin asks me to see and to celebrate every day: the sun comes up, the sun goes down and in between we have a day.

We have our routine. We have our dry erase board. It keeps us in check and keeps us contained. Thankfully, there is space for so much: four kids, one dog, one mom, one day. Let’s stick to today. And repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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