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Changes in Routine: How To Prepare for the Unexpected

Updated: May 12, 2023

Routines are beneficial for everyone; they reduce stress, improve sleep quality, give you more time for healthy habits, and help you make better use of your time. Unexpected routine changes can throw off your balance and cause a series of mishaps - like when you're on “autopilot” during your morning drive and forget about the unexpected errand you need to complete!

But what is a routine? And how is it different from a habit? A habit is something you do with little thought like washing your hands after using the washroom, but a routine is a series of tasks that you do in a particular order. Habits are hard to change, but routines are easier to change. And by changing your routine, you can create new habits. (Hasa, 2022) For example, when John lived at home, his morning routine includes waking up, going to the washroom, washing his face, eating breakfast, getting dressed, and brushing his teeth. Now that he lives on his own, he needs to create the habit of making his own breakfast. This might be a difficult habit to introduce, but including it as part of his routine will make it an easier for John to create this new habit.

(Hasa, 2022) Routines provide a structure of predictability and remove the stress of “what’s next.” They allow for planning and an overall sense of who is doing what and when. This structure is essential for people with disabilities as there are often many people helping them to manage their health and personal day-to-day movements. It also allows control over their daily life. To create a more person-centred approach, caregivers must remember that some people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DDs) have difficulty accessing information and processing changes in routine. So, what is the best method for routine changes when helping someone with disabilities?

Talk about it!

Remember, there is a difference between not wanting to change routine versus not wanting to do a task. Talk with the people you are planning to ensure that this routine change fits in with their personal goals. Being descriptive about the task and providing advanced notice during this talk would be ideal for helping someone prepare for any changes. Don’t forget to double-check that discussing upcoming changes does not cause anxiety, as this can only make matters worse.

Provide updates!

Not only is it necessary to provide advanced notice (as anyone would expect), but it would also be helpful to provide reminders before the change occurs. This can be done verbally, through a visual schedule or board, or a calendar; if you have LifeCourseOnline, discussing it in the events calendar on LifeCourseOnline can help reduce anxiety.

If the person you care for has concerns about changing tasks throughout the day, you can always use audio and visual reminders to let them know they can expect a change. A timer is a great way to remind yourselves/them that a change in task is coming.

Prepare for the unexpected.

Although you can be as prepared as possible for changes in routine, you can’t always predict your schedule to a T.

Change is inevitable.

Allowing for opportunities for slight changes in routine can help someone better adjust to larger unexpected changes later. For example, stopping off at a store to buy a cup of coffee or changing the order can help people adjust to changes in the long run. But no matter the change, or how well-prepared someone can be, some people take longer to adjust to an unplanned task. This is why talking about it, providing updates, and preparing for the unexpected are so helpful in making transitions easier.


February 2011. Nursing Times. 2022. <>. Garvey, Jenna. "Routines and Schedules Can Ease the Transition into the New Year." n.d. May Institute. September 2022. <>. Hasa. "Difference Between Habit and Routine." 8 September 2016. Difference Between. September 2022. < >.

Check out LifeCourseOnline to help plan your goals,

schedule, and routine to ensure that your plans and

support system are person-centered.


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