Level 3 Routines - Becoming Independent & Learning Consequences

Two students work together to make a bowl of cereal for breakfast.
Two students work together to make a bowl of cereal for breakfast.

As a student becomes more competent in completing the steps in a routine and has had the experience of expanded steps in a familiar routine, a natural goal is to work toward independence in completing the activity. There are two things required at this point, a set of skills to complete the steps and the inner desire and confidence in his/her ability to complete the activity. These are not the same thing. Think about typically developing children who can do something like sing a song or turn a somersault until you ask them to show someone else how they can do it. This is often true of children with significant disabilities as well.

Provide Support Through Modeling

It is very important at this stage to support the child’s emotional development and sense of self-determination. As the student begins to do the routine on his/her own, it can be helpful to model the routine yourself.  This video of Nick and Matt doing a grooming routine  is a great example of this type of support.

Note how Matt uses a video tape and then completes the activity himself before asking Nick to do it on his own. Nick has a great deal of usable vision so these strategies work well for him. If a child doesn’t have much vision, you would need to use tactile strategies that allow the child to follow what you are doing.

 Nick’s and Matt’s Grooming Routines



Dr. Nielsen talks about the five phases of educational treatment in her book, Are You Blind? The fifth phase is referred to as Consequences. The purpose of this approach with the child is related to developing the social and emotional skills:
    • to help the learner to endure meeting demands
    • to help the learner endure changes in life
    • to help the learner feel self-confident – which is fundamental in making your own decisions about your life
    • to establish a sense of responsibility

A goal in developing independence in completing an activity is always about helping the student learn to cope and manage the failures, unexpected events, and challenges that life is sure to bring. This provide a great opportunity for conversations about what happened during the activity. When things go awry, they leave an emotional imprint on us. When the unexpected happens it can derail us or delight us, but we will most likely remember it.

Sometimes humans don’t want to do something that needs to get done. For example, doing the laundry or cooking a meal. There are consequences for the choices we make in our lives. This is an important thing for our students to learn as well. If I don’t follow a recipe, the dish might not taste very good but it will taste different. If I don’t do the laundry, I will eventually have to wear dirty clothes or at least go buy new ones. If the student doesn’t want to complete the routine or complete it in a different way, he/she needs to experience the natural consequences of that decision. 


A word of caution about overly praising a child’s accomplishments…this can be a kind of prompt dependency and undermine the child’s sense of their own abilities and value. When a child looks to the adult for applause after the completion of each step, what happens with his independence?

Let the child complete each step without offering a lot of comments. If the child stops and turns to you for approval after each step, simply comment in a neutral way (you poured the milk) or ask what the child needs. Let go of the habit of saying, “good boy” or “good girl” 50 times during the child’s work. When the entire activity is finished, that is the time to say that the job was well done.

Infusing Literacy Goals

When a child is able to complete a routine at this level, it is easy to infuse literacy skills into the activity. For example, you can have an expansion strip with tactile symbols representing each step or a brailled list of step-by-step instructions.

Using a static form of communication (tactile symbols, print, braille, pictures) to guide the student in completing the activity is an important step towards learning through reading. You could also use video recordings (think YouTube) or audio recordings depending on the child’s sensory access needs. These are also static forms of communication.

If the routine ends up having some unexpected outcomes or occurrences, you might also want to create a story about the experience. You can talk about the activity and have the student co-create the story with you.