Routines and rituals

What are routines and rituals?

Autistic people attach a great deal of importance to routines and rituals. For them, it's reassuring to know what's going to happen and how it's going to happen. As a result, they experience less uncertainty. However, in some situations, routines and rituals become such a priority that they are detrimental to the autistic person and those around him or her.

Routines and rituals are an important part of life for most autistic people. They serve a purpose.

Routines and rituals can affect all sorts of spheres of everyday life.

Sometimes rituals are more complex, take up more space and require more time.

Although they can be a great help, and will promote a certain stability in the life of an autistic person, if routines and rituals are taken to extremes, they can hinder the person’s development and cause harm to him or her and those around him or her. It’s a good idea to build the unexpected into the routine, so that even if the structure usually remains the same, it may be possible to cope with a few changes when necessary.


Pictograms are small images placed side by side, indicating how the day will unfold. One such image is a yellow triangle with an exclamation mark inside. Some call it the life-saving triangle. This triangle lets the autistic person know that the forecasting line has been temporarily broken, that something unexpected is happening. The person can then understand that when the triangle is removed, the result will be a return to normal.

Not all autistic people use pictograms, but the factor of rarity and the fact that the unexpected is temporary can help the autistic person to cope better with it.

The unexpected

The unexpected can happen. Many autistic adults prepare for them by preparing as many worst-case scenarios as possible, so they can react better if the situation arises. A person with autism who constantly experiences a large number of unexpected events could see his or her mental state and abilities deteriorate, as this can lead to great psychological distress.


Compromises are sometimes a break from routine. It’s a good idea to take your time and avoid demanding rapid change from the autistic person, unless it’s really necessary. A no can become a maybe and eventually a yes if the person can gradually assimilate the information related to this change.


The watchword here is balance. Yes, in autism, routines and rituals must be favored, as we know their beneficial effects on the feeling of security felt, but we must keep a small margin of maneuver for flexibility so as not to evade any possibility of change or adjustment. It is therefore important to respect routines and rituals in autism, as long as this does not put the person or those around him or her at risk.


Routines and rituals are not a universal solution for autistic people. It’s essential that autistic people’s families take their individual needs into account. By working together, autistic people and their loved ones can approach routines and rituals in a way that respects each other’s needs.

Valérie Jessica Laporte