What is a routine?

“A routine is a repeatable series of events that provides a predictable structure to one’s life.” – Chris Montgomery

"Making Coffee" by danielfoster437 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“Making Coffee” by danielfoster437 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We all rely on routines and constantly create new ones. Why? Because making something routine actually requires our brain to use less energy and operate more efficiently. Most of us have a routines for getting ready in the morning, making our coffee, or feeding the dog. We have a routine route we take to work most days and we park in a routine place so we don’t have to think about where we left our car. 

Routines are a tool for adding structure and predictability to the day – and they are a part of the larger picture of the Communication System for children who are deafblind or visually and multiply impaired.

    • Routines break the large segment of time that defines an activity which is part of the day  into smaller more manageable segments.
    • Routines provide an external structure on which to hang information and build concepts.
    • Routines can provide external structure when internal structure is not intact.
    • Routines require less energy and greater efficiency in terms of brain function.

By allowing for consistent, structured routines we are able to establish a framework to build upon. Through routines we learn to anticipate, which allows for less stress and better communication. Routines give meaning to actions and events, while building a memory foundation for other learning.

Some things to consider when constructing a routine:

    • Represent the activity with the a symbol and name, e.g. Cookie Time routine.
    • The beginning and end steps of the activity are clear to both the teacher and the student.
    • The sequence of steps should be simple and predictable, especially during the initial phases of implementing the routine.
    • The student should have multiple opportunities to comment or respond within the routine.
    • Interactions are reciprocal between the adult and the student. Rather than teacher-driven – take turns.
    • Objects and actions are used to cue responses from the student rather than verbal or tactual prompts.
    • Target skills the student is currently able to perform when defining the student’s response while modeling and supporting the development of new skills.
    • All features of the routine should be consistent each time it is implemented including the people, location, time and steps.
    • Target vocabulary and use consistent language to develop communication skills and concepts.
    • Build toward independence, but start with no demands.

Two types of routines:

We think about routines in two categories, but they actually fall along more of a continuum:

Skills-based horizontal green line segment with arrows on each endCommunication- based

    • Skills-based – The focus is more on teaching a skill (i.e. brushing teeth or tying a shoe).
    • Communication-based The focus is less on teaching a skill and more on bonding and communication – These types of routines are more open ended and child driven.

Having said that, all routines should include elements of skills and communication, although they may fall closer to one end of this continuum than the other. All routines should be child driven and have skills that are being learned and practiced. They should be chocked full of good conversation and communication. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun, because this is how you will bond!

Thinking along the continuum

    • When you are creating a routine, what is your primary purpose? Where does it lie along the skills/communication continuum? 
    • Sometimes you are really focused on specific skills development like learning how to dress yourself or learning a route to the cafeteria.
    • Sometimes you are focused on being together and sharing an enjoyable or interesting experience such as going for a swim or playing with the pet hamster.