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The Challenge to Survive Morning Routines with Special Needs

A while ago I received a message from a reader asking about our morning routine.  This mother was struggling with a child who takes medications, and how morning behaviors affected siblings and their home environment.

At the time, I was struggling myself and felt very inadequate answering the question.  Today, I finally feel confident sharing what we've discovered works for us.

The challenge to survive morning routines with special needs can be so overwhelming!

The Challenge to Survive Morning Routines with Special Needs

The Challenge to Survive Morning Routines with Special Needs


One of the many ways we made the world work for our family in years past was to not commit to anything outside of what was absolutely necessary at a required time.

It was just too hard.

Our world was designed around the order of daily events, not by the time on a clock.

Anything related to time caused severe anxieties and behaviors we did not want to deal with unless absolutely necessary.

My husband and I had personal time goals for each part of the day, but if things were derailed we didn't worry.  We'd finish the days events when everyone was ready.

Our feeling was it was more important that we finish a task from beginning to end than stick to time as if the day was controlled by a stop watch, especially in cases where behaviors were a way to try to get out of doing something.

The Ultimate Challenge

Needless to says our world turned upside down when both of our girls started school in the fall.

Sunshine continues to attend her day program.

Princess started at our local public elementary school.

The boys continue to homeschool.

To say this transition was hard is an understatement.

Our biggest challenge was figuring out a morning routine that worked for everyone.

The process took months.

Why did it take so long?

The Thoughts in My Head

Like many moms out there, I felt I was a horrible mother if I didn't make sure my girls had a healthy, delicious breakfast before they left for school.

I thought I wasn't good enough if my girls didn't look their best (according to my standards) when leaving the house.

Growing up I was taught that your room is clean, your bed is made and your chores are done before you leave for school.  I had those same expectations for my daughters.

This may work very well for some families, but for us not so much.

A Brick Wall

Reactive Attachment Disorder, a mood disorder, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD and autism do not agree with my morning routines plans AT ALL.  It was as if I was running into a brick wall every single morning.

Here are just a few reasons why:


Sunshine requires medication to regulate her moods and other aspects of her functioning.  When she wakes up in the morning, her dose from the night before has completely worn off.  Her morning dose of medication takes at least 30 minutes to kick in.

A lot can go on in thirty minutes, especially when she's supposed to be getting ready.


Sunshine lacks a significant amount of safety awareness without her meds.  She tends to be more physical in every way.  She may be bouncing off the walls or ping ponging around the kitchen.  Sometimes she just feels like picking a fight or kicking her walls.  If a sibling is nearby...  Beware!

Social Boundaries

Sunshine does not understand social boundaries in general and tends to be in your face all of the time. This behavior is much worse before meds have kicked in.  Interactions between Sunshine and parents can be a bit unpredictable, depending on her mood.  Without medication working, they can go south quite quickly.

Limit Testing

Every child is great at testing limits when it comes to morning routines.  But a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is the ultimate master at the game.  When you have two children with RAD...  A referee is required at the very least.

So you're probably wondering how in the world we manage to survive each morning.

This is how we do it:

Our Morning Routine

My husband and I wake up and give each other a little pep talk and affirmation that we can make it calmly through another morning routine.

I promise I'm not kidding about this.  It helps so much and is necessary more often than not.

He then immediately goes downstairs to do his own wake up routine and gets Sunshine's medications ready.

I wake up Princess and send her to the bathroom (where she tends to take her sweet time) and start my day's work.

When the medications are ready, I wake up Sunshine and send her downstairs where my husband administers them to her.

Sometimes this process goes well, especially if she's still a little drowsy.

Sometimes Sunshine decides to have a little fun though, especially if she was awake before I went to get her.

In these cases we instantly remind her about the consequences that come if she decides not to take her medications and at times a timer is required to work through the process.

Meanwhile Princess makes the transition from the bathroom to her room where she closes her door and gets ready for school.

We do not permit interaction between our children before Sunshine's meds kick in.

Sunshine returns to her room upstairs and then we wait for that magical moment when she calms and functions.

Sometimes she bounces around, plays, and entertains herself. Other times she decides to pick a fight with me or her sister.

I remain upstairs to keep the girls separated and push them along while my husband prepares lunches and backpacks for the day.

Most days this goes well.  Rarely do I need back up.

Princess goes downstairs ten minutes before her transportation to school shows up (only 40 minutes after she's woken up) to gather her things and get ready to go out the door.  

My husband then walks her to the end of the driveway and waits with her.

It's not usually until Princess goes downstairs that Sunshine actually gets dressed, puts her socks and braces on, and is ready for me to help her with her shoes.

When she hears Princess' transportation leave the house we head downstairs to get ready for her ride to arrive.  They come between five and fifteen minutes apart depending on the day.

On our way downstairs I wake up the boys and they start their morning routines.  They know to stay upstairs in their room with the door shut until their sisters leave.

Both girls' rooms are often a mess when they leave.

It's not worth the fight.

They know when they come home from school before they do anything else their room needs to be clean and chores done.  (I'll share how that goes on a different day.)

Princess does her own hair every morning. (She absolutely loves this!)  It may not look like how I would do it, but it works, especially since she takes it out a million times a day to redo.

Sunshine's hair is cut short because of battles we've had over taking care of it correctly and being safe with hair accessories.  It takes two seconds to brush through it.

Neither girl eats before they leave in the morning. Breakfast is served at both of their schools. We take advantage of this program, not because we don't have food, but because our goal is a peaceful morning and trying to fit in breakfast is just too much.

(Princess is trying to work towards breakfast at home, but knows if she isn't dressed with shoes on and hair done by a certain time, she will need to grab it at school.  

Due to Sunshine's food allergies I provide food for her breakfast at school.)

Both girls know my husband and I will not hesitate to send them to school with pajamas on, teeth unbrushed, hair messy, and shoeless.  

This idea is unbelievably appalling and embarrassing to them so we haven't had to do it yet.  (Thank goodness!)

Everyone knows it's not an option to miss transportation services.  

If my husband or myself have to lose an hour of our day transporting one or both of the girls to school (30 minutes one way) they lose an hour of fun with us.

I never anticipated our morning routine working the way it does.

Other than a goodbye before transportation comes, none of our children interact with each other.

It takes two adults, one downstairs and outside and the other upstairs.

I will say my husband survived a week on his own while I was on vacation with my boys.  

He made sure lunches were packed the night before.  

Sunshine waited with him on the porch while Princess waited for transportation at the end of the driveway.  

But when the week was over, he was VERY happy to have my help again and needed some time to recuperate.

Ultimately a successful morning routine is dependent on me following my children to know what each can and can not handle, and then adjusting my expectations. 

There are so many opportunities for chaos to occur in the morning.  Eliminating those chances has made all the difference.

What does your morning routine look like?

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The Challenge to Survive Morning Routines with Special Needs


  1. I've missed updates about how your family is doing. I am impressed at how you all continually adapt to do what is best for each of your children.

  2. Autumn fp2pbblog@gmail.comFebruary 13, 2019 at 9:11 PM

    Ive been trying to email you to ask you some things about RAD, we are desperate for help!

  3. This is inspiring! I love how you have been able to let go of certain expectation to be able to best serve your family. I also love how you and your husband make such a great team! Your kids are so blessed to have you.
    Thank you for sharing your morning routine.