Functional Routines: STAR autism strategies
Functional Routines are predictable events that involve a chain of behaviors. Routines are generally associated with a functional outcome for the child. Some common example routines that all children engage are: the restroom routine, arrival routine and snack routine. The functional outcome of a routine usually serves as the reinforcer for typically developing children. These routines provide meaningful contexts for using, generalizing, and maintaining receptive and expressive language, social interaction skills, and pre-academic concepts. The STAR Program provides the teacher with the needed programs to systematically teach children to independently participate in most common school and self-care routines. Guidance is provided for the creation of a structured learning environment for young children with autism. The STAR Program also provides the teacher with a system to integrate and thus generalize the use of skills taught in discrete trial and pivotal response training.
References for Teaching Functional Routines: Falco, R., Jansen, J., Arick, J. and M. Deboer (1990). J. B. Ganz (2007), R. Lovannone, G., Dunlap, H. Huber, and D. Kincaid (2003), B.T. Ogletree, T. Oren, & M.A. Fisher (2007), Brown, Evans, Weed, & Owen, (1987). Cooper, et. Al., (1987). McClannahan & Krantz, (2000). Olley, (1987). Arick, J., Young, H., Falco, R., Loos, L., Krug, D., Gense, M., and Johnson, S. (2003).
As a teacher, I have been asked often to help establish routines at home. It may feel out of the scope of our jobs, but the more our students are calm, organized and adapted at home, the more likely they are to come to school rested, and ready to learn.
What part of your day (at home) is most stressful with your child? Where are the most breakdowns, meltdowns and power struggles? The answer to that question is where the functional routines can be worked on to create structure and support.
Some common areas of struggle include: getting ready for school, homework time, meal times, bedtime. Sometimes the whole day is challenging and filled with struggle. We can’t fix the whole day at once. As parents, it can feel daunting when people tell us to create a daily routine…A long expansive day feels like a marathon to get through and routines end up breaking down when we try to set the whole day into a predictable, calm and well oiled routine machine. Our goal is to help kids with autism have a calm and organized home life which carries over to school.
So let’s focus on creating micro-routines….
What is a micro routine? Start with one small routine during the day. Let’s pick a challenging one to start. You can establish more routines as your child becomes more comfortable with them.
Why? Routines are so important for kids with autism. Kids with autism thrive on predictability, structure and routine. Following and completing a routine can feel naturally reinforcing and organizing. Routines bring order to your day…
How to get started: Let’s pick dinner time as an example: Some children with autism have a hard time understanding what is expected of them at mealtimes. They may have become accustomed to grazing or snacking during the day but not sitting down and having a meal.
Here is what a dinner time routine can look like:
- wash hands
- set the table. The child can help. They can do as much or as little as they can.
- light a dinner time candle or LED candle
- say a prayer or one thing we are grateful for
- sit down and eat a meal
- ask to be excused
- clear their plate
- tell mom thank you for dinner
Within any routine, each step can be broken down into a task analysis if needed. If a child needs more support, take a look at Task Analysis For Students With Autism
Over time our routine has improved and what was once a chaotic and un-enjoyable time of the night has become something to look forward to.
This micro-routine may only realistically last for a short amount of time but building predictable and clear routine will help carve this time out for you and your family.
Add visual supports for extra clarity and guidance:
Low Tech Options: Real pictures, line drawings or words can work as a way to support the micro-routine.
How to Teach: Model, practice, support and reinforce. Each step of the routine may start as a brief or fleeting moment but reinforce each step. If your child has never sat at the table for dinner, set a visual timer for a few minutes to encourage them to sit. Why I love My Time Timer for Visual Support. As time goes on, lengthen the time they are at the table.
You may think a daily routine will be impossible to implement so start with a micro-routine and stick with it. Every day is a chance to practice the routine. Stay positive and encourage growth even micro-growth because over time, the predictably will become part of your daily life.