What's the Best Morning Routine for Children with Autism?

By raluca.olariu@…, 17 April, 2023
girl sitting by the window

For some people, mornings represent the motivational picture of a fresh start and a chance to get things done. For others, waking up comes with dread and grumpiness. This is the case for many children with autism, who can find it difficult to go through the night-to-day transition. 

What seems to help children and parents alike is building morning routines that provide a sense of structure and help children with autism know what to expect during morning time. 

In this article, you'll learn:

  • Why mornings can be especially difficult for children with autism.
  • How morning routines can help autistic kids.
  • Examples of simple and effective morning routines for children with autism.


Why Are Mornings Hard for Children with Autism?

More than half of children with autism experience sleep disturbances. Bedtime resistance, sleep onset delay, and anxiety often lead to morning tantrums and a difficult start to the day. 

Another reason why mornings can be a difficult time for children with autism is that in the morning, cortisol levels tend to be higher. Cortisol is a hormone released in response to stress and can contribute to agitation and irritability in children with autism. 

Also, morning transitions often involve changes in routine or environment which are known triggers of anxiety for individuals with autism. Children may also experience meltdowns due to sensory issues, such as bright lights, noise, or changes in temperature. 

Fortunately, through a personalized morning routine that meets their needs, children with autism can learn to better manage their emotions during the morning hours.

What Are the Benefits of Mornings Routines for Autistic Kids?

Morning routines are known to be beneficial as they provide a structured way of transitioning from sleep to wakefulness. Whether through meditation, yoga, or reading their favorite books, people establish morning routines to have an organized start of the day that sets a good mood and allows them to be productive.

The same applies to children with autism. A morning routine can help them get used to the idea of waking up, as well as manage their emotions and any sensory issues that arise during the transition from night to day. Parents can also use it as an opportunity to bond and create a sense of security and predictability.

Morning routines are the most beneficial when created with the unique needs of each child in mind and personalized to meet those needs.

For example, a child with autism who experiences sensory overload in the mornings may need to have calming activities as part of their routine, such as soothing music or aromatherapy. Children that have difficulties waking up and transitioning from sleep to wakefulness may need more active activities to start their day, such as jumping on a trampoline or playing an active game.

Morning Routine Examples for Children with Autism

Creating an effective morning routine for children with autism can require some trial and error, but here are a few examples of activities that may help:

  • Select clothes the night before. Mornings can sometimes be hectic and can easily overwhelm children with autism. Choosing their outfit the night before is a great way to avoid extra stress in the morning.
  • Have a visual schedule to break down tasks. Many children with autism function much better when tasks are broken down into smaller, simpler steps. Visual schedules help children know what to expect next, making it easier for them to complete tasks like getting dressed or brushing their teeth.

  • Set timers. To avoid excessive time spent on a task, setting a timer gives children with autism a warning of when to move on to the next activity.
  • Put on some music. Who says mornings can't be fun? If your child likes music, consider playing some music and keeping it light and cheerful, as it can help reduce stress levels in the morning.
  • Provide nutritious snacks and light physical exercise to help increase alertness.

  • Have a weighted blanket or another calming tool on hand. Weighted blankets can help children with autism feel secure, while also providing stimulation and reducing anxiety levels. Calming tools like fidgets and sensory toys may also be helpful.
  • Create a nighttime routine. Establishing a nighttime routine can help ensure that your child is getting enough sleep and will wake up feeling rested. This may include things like avoiding screens before bed, limiting caffeine intake, and reading a book before going to sleep.
  • Don't deviate from the schedule. The more you help your child stick to their morning routine, the more they will become used to it and start looking forward to their mornings. However, keep in mind that sometimes there may be setbacks. This is natural and should be expected to happen.



Mornings can be difficult for children with autism but by establishing routines that are tailored to their needs, parents can ensure that their child has a smooth transition from night to day.

As most children with autism love routines, making the most out of a well-structured morning routine can ease anxiety and sensory overload. 


Photo credit: Unsplash.