Why Establish Rules and Routines?

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Rules and Routines
Overview
Defined rules and routines are important components of educational programming for all
students, but particularly for individuals with ASD, whose learning differences may
present challenges in understanding expectations (Swanson, 2005). This module
presents strategies for designing and implementing rules and routines to support
students with ASD and promote success in school, home, and the community
Pre-Assessment
Pre-Assessment
Rules and routines support individuals with ASD by addressing which of the following
characteristics?
Select an answer for question 371
Rules and routines are two different strategies for establishing behavioral boundaries
and expectations.
Select an answer for question 372
The structure and predictability of rules and routines allow individuals with ASD to
manage information and meet the expectations of an environment.
Select an answer for question 373
Rules should be:
Select an answer for question 374
Routines can help support the development of functional skills.
Select an answer for question 375
Rules and routines are more comprehensible when paired with visual supports.
Select an answer for question 376
Why Establish Rules and Routines?
Unique learning needs, including differences in attention, organization and sequencing,
independent initiation, transitioning, and interpreting social cues between activities,
often cause individuals with ASD to miss out on important information and activities that
occur throughout the day. The next section details some of the specific characteristics
that necessitate well-structured rules and routines.
Attention
Individuals with ASD often demonstrate a myriad challenges related to attention. Quill
(2001) highlights problems with engaging and disengaging attention, which ultimately
affect attention-shifting skills. Another issue related to attention is over-selectivity, or the
tendency to attend to a limited number of environmental cues at one time (Reed &
Gibson, 2005). These differences in attention may influence an individual's ability to
meet expectations across environments throughout their day.
Organization and Sequencing
Differences in organizing and sequencing information may impair the ability of individual
with ASD to initiate and complete steps in an activity. For example, they may not be
able to determine how to approach a situation, identify exactly what needs to be done,
and set an appropriate goal or plan (Carnahan, Hume, Clarke, & Borders, 2009).
Independent Initiation
The National Research Council (NRC) (2001) identified personal independence as a
key component in instruction for individuals with ASD. However, individuals with ASD
often need high rates of adult prompting or supervision and are susceptible to
developing a pattern of waiting for prompts before initiating tasks (Hume & Odom,
2007). Prompt dependence interferes with the development of skills like initiation that
support independent functioning.
Difficulty with Transitions
Transitions between events, locations, and people often present significant challenges
for individuals ASD. Environments that provide clear expectations and predictable
routines promote increased engagement and on-task behavior (Tien & Lee, 2007), so
the new expectations and changes that come from transitions can produce anxiety for
individuals with ASD.
Difficulty Interpreting Social Cues
Monitoring behavior often requires interpretation of social cues. Attention and response
to such cues requires abstract and conceptual thinking, skills that are often challenging
for individuals with ASD. Therefore, interpreting dynamic social situations, such as
those in the school environment, and determining an appropriate behavioral response
can present a considerable challenge for individuals with ASD (Hodgdon, 2005).
courtesy of Mayer Johnson
Individuals with ASD thrive in well-organized, highly structured environments (see AIM
module on Structured Teaching for more information). Rules and routines are important
components of such learning environments. The predictability of clearly defined rules
and routines promotes understanding and participation. Specifically, individuals with
ASD may rely on rules and routines to reduce confusion, to make predictions about an
event, and then to meet the expectations of the environment (Schuler, 1995). This, in
turn, frees individuals with ASD to shift attention to other information, such as
instruction, work tasks, and/or environmental cues. When they can better attend to,
organize, sequence, and store information, individuals with ASD can later access and
apply that information for meaningful purposes. Further, when better able to manage
information, individuals with ASD encounter fewer challenges related to transitions and
increased levels of independent initiation.
Being responsive to the needs of individuals with ASD requires developing and explicitly
teaching rules and routines that facilitate participation in many different environments.
Without explicitly taught routines, individuals with ASD may develop their own, which
are often not adaptive or effective (Mesibov, Shea, & Schopler, 2005). Meaningful and
functional rules and routines, in combination with visual schedules and many other
organization tools, assist individuals with ASD in understanding the environment and
becoming more flexible (Swanson, 2005).
Developing and Teaching Rules and
Routines
courtesy of Mayer Johnson
Differences Between Rules and Routines
Rules and routines are not the same. Each is a different strategy for establishing
behavioral boundaries and expectations. Rules are statements defining behavior
permissible in given situations or environments, whereas routines detail the steps
required in carrying out certain actions. For example, a rule in the home environment
may be that an individual, Johnny, can answer the telephone when it rings. A routine
establishes the steps involved when Johnny answers the phone (pick up the phone from
the base, press the "talk button," say "hello," wait for a response, etc.). Together rules
and routines meet the needs of individuals with ASD, thereby promoting independence
and success in many different environments.
Visual picture sets are available online to support development of rules and routines at
a variety of places, one of those on the Special Education Technology of British
Columbia website.
Developing and Teaching Rules
In order to explicitly teach individuals with ASD to follow the rules across environments
throughout the day, it is important to understand the levels of rules they may encounter.
Parents may enforce a specific set of rules at home, whereas community and work
settings operate under certain rules. Most schools establish a broad set of building-wide
rules for students to follow. At the same time, individual teachers establish different sets
of rules for each of their classrooms. To complicate matters even more, there are also
different rules for certain areas of the school environment, such as the playground, the
cafeteria or the library.
Since individuals with ASD navigate many different environments during the day, initially
identifying one broad set of rules that applies across settings can help promote success.
Once they demonstrate understanding of and proficiency in following the broad set of
rules, establishing other environmental rules is helpful. Implementing a limited number
of concrete rules is important when developing rules. Rules should be observable and
clearly illustrate what the student SHOULD do, rather than simply what not to do. A rule
such as "no hitting" does not provide any information about what is desired or
appropriate. Alternately, "keep hands to self" or "keep hands on the table" specifically
describes the appropriate behavior.
After identifying which rules to teach, it is important to determine how to deliver
instruction. Specific steps include identifying who will provide explicit instruction, the
location of instruction, and the instructional strategies and supports needed. Family
members, teachers, paraprofessionals, related-service providers, and peers can deliver
instruction related to specific behavioral expectations of rules. Teaching occurs in each
of the environments where the rules apply in order to promote generalization. Explicit
teaching of each rule minimizes confusion and supports independence. For example, a
teacher may establish the rule "use nice words" as an expectation in her classroom.
Without direct instruction, an individual with ASD may not understand the categorization
of "nice words" versus "not nice words."
courtesy of Mayer Johnson
Providing individualized visual supports, such as picture representations or written
copies of the rules, can enhance instruction as well as provide students with an
accessible reference. Individuals with ASD need multiple opportunities for practice in a
variety of environments. Instruction should include ongoing monitoring and data
collection to provide students with specific feedback about performances in practice and
real situations.
Finally, consistency of enforcement is important. Variations between individuals can
cause confusion and limit the potential for the student to understand and follow the
rules. For example, a school rule may be "walk in the hallways." A paraprofessional
working with Sara, an individual with ASD, insists that she walk. Meanwhile, her
classroom teacher allows her to skip or run. This discrepancy makes it unlikely Sara will
learn to consistently follow the rule.
Developing and Teaching Routines
As with rules, an essential first step in developing routines is determining the role of
routines throughout the day and across environments (i.e., home, school, and
community). This includes analyzing current routines, the individual's adherence to
routines, and the amount of previous direct instruction on routines. Analysis of an
individual's day may highlight challenging areas where implementation of new routines
could create more successful experiences. Carefully consider less structured times
such as transitions or free time that may demand implementation of routines to provide
more structure.
When individuals with ASD transition to a new activity, independent work tasks for
instance, beginning the activity may be challenging for them. However, often they are
able to complete a task independently once given a prompt to initiate. One strategy to
address this challenge is to provide a routine for independent work that clearly outlines
the steps required to begin and complete a task. This involves careful analysis of each
step to ensure that the individual is able to progress independently. Omitting a step may
cause the individual to become "stuck," or unable to move forward on the task
independently. A visual representation of the steps in the routine can support direct
instruction and provide an accessible reference once independence is expected.
The same strategy applies to group instruction or activities. Routine is inherent in many
group activities, but without explicit instruction, an individual with ASD may not
recognize the pattern. Additionally, creating, teaching, and practicing routines related to
less common events, such as emergency drills, can lessen anxiety and develop skills
for performance during the event. Such preparation can minimize the occurrence of
unsuitable behaviors when the event occurs.
courtesy of Mayer Johnson
Routines are especially useful in supporting the development of functional skills.
Activities related to independent living skills can easily be broken into individual steps
and taught as routines. For example, creating a routine with visual supports for the
toileting process helps minimize prompting and promotes independence. Many
individuals with ASD have clearly established preferred items or activities. Building
these skills into the routines supports the development of functional skills. Consider an
individual who loves eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Creating and teaching a
routine with visual supports for accessing the necessary materials, making the
sandwich, and cleaning up uses a highly motivating food item to develop the
independent living skill of making a meal.
It is important to consider that not even carefully developed routines are immune to
change - a special event or illness can cause disruptions. Since individuals with ASD
"function best when predictability is established across the school day" (Myles,
Grossman, Aspy, Henry, & Bixler Coffin, 2007, p. 398-409), it is crucial to prepare for
changes that may upset typical routines. Therefore, instruction related to routines
should incorporate teaching the concept of flexibility and tolerance of change.
Maintaining the structure of familiar routines while injecting preferred activities or objects
can teach students that change can be positive and begin to increase the student's
tolerance for unexpected events.
Rules and Routines at Home
Case Study: Anna
Sheila struggled to find a support that could help Anna, her 14-year-old daughter with
Asperger Syndrome, better manage her time after school. Sheila felt frustrated by the
daily battle between homework and Anna's favorite computer activity. To keep the
peace, Sheila gave in to Anna's daily demand for computer time, but homework suffered
as a result. Sheila felt it was important to implement a set of rules as well as a routine
for Anna to follow after school. Shelia identified one rule, "finish your homework before
using the computer," to initially implement after school, then started to think about the
routine.
Recognizing that Anna did her best work after a short break and a snack, Sheila made
this the first step in the after-school routine. Second was "take backpack to the office,"
followed by "complete homework," "have homework checked by an adult," then "put
completed homework in backpack." "Computer time" completed the routine. Sheila
decided the best presentation would be to have the steps written out and paired with
boxes to be checked off as the individual steps were completed. She posted the routine
on the bulletin board by the door where Anna could access it when she entered the
house after school.
Sheila reviewed and practiced the rule and routine with Anna for a few days, gradually
fading her support as she saw Anna becoming more proficient. Anna learned to follow
the steps independently and significantly increased the amount of homework she
completed each day. The image to the right shows the visual supports Sheila used to
teach Anna the new routine.
Rules and Routines at School
Case Study: Joey
Understanding that Joey, a kindergarten student with ASD, needed both visual supports
and predictability throughout his day, his teachers created a picture schedule outlining
his daily activities. His visual schedule quickly became very important to Joey, but it
wasn't long before his teachers noticed another issue developing. Joey was so anxious
to check his schedule each morning that he would enter the classroom at a run, drop his
backpack and coat in the center of the room and go directly to his transition area to
check his schedule. Recognizing that Joey had developed a routine that was not
acceptable in their classroom, his teachers knew that they would need to create a more
appropriate morning routine for Joey to follow.
The teachers decided to develop a routine for arrival that included the steps Joey had to
follow when he came into the classroom each day. Once they determined the steps they
would address, they chose a picture symbol to represent each one and sequenced the
symbols on a strip of cardboard. For the next week, an adult met Joey each day as he
got off the bus and did a mini-lesson with him about his routine. After the lesson, the
adult prompted Joey through they steps of the routine in the classroom. Within a few
weeks of implementation of this routine, Joey's arrival in the classroom became much
more controlled and he was able to independently follow the steps in his morning
routine. The picture to the right depicts the visual supports used to implement Joey's
new rules and routines at school.
Rules and Routines in the Community
Case Study: Jose'
Jose, a 19-year-old individual with autism, enjoyed participating in a community bowling
league. Jose's brother, Angelo, typically drove him to and from the bowling alley, but a
change in his work schedule made that impossible. Mike, one of Jose's teammates,
offered to give him a ride instead. However, the first day that Mike went to Jose's house
to pick him up, Jose became very upset with the change and refused to get in the car,
repeatedly insisting that it was bowling day and he needed to go bowling. No level of
explanation could convince Jose that just like Angelo, Mike would take him to the
bowling alley.
Mike and Angelo realized they needed to help Jose better understand the change in his
routine. Knowing that Jose had responded well to video self-modeling in the past, they
decided to develop a video to teach the new routine. From the backseat, Angelo filmed
Jose getting into Mike's car, the two of them driving to the bowling alley, and going into
the bowling alley together. Angelo then arranged for Jose to watch the video each day
before Mike picked him up to bowl. Watching the video helped Jose understand the
change and learn the new routine for his outings. Because Jose's family presented the
change in a way he could comprehend (visually), his anxiety and fear significantly
decreased. Soon after, Jose was able to enjoy bowling as in the past.
Summary
The predictability of clearly defined rules and routines promotes understanding and
participation. Specifically, individuals with ASD may rely on rules and routines to reduce
confusion, to make predictions about an event, and then to meet the expectations of the
environment.
Rules and routines are not the same. Each is a different strategy for establishing behavioral boundaries
and expectations. Rules are statements defining behavior permissible in given situations or environments,
whereas routines detail the steps required in carrying out certain actions.
When designing rules for individuals with ASD it is important to determine what rules will
be taught, ensure that the rules are concrete and comprehensible, determine how the
rules will be taught and what structures and supports will facilitate understanding, and
finally determine how the rules will be enforced.
When designing routines for individuals with ASD, it is important to determine which
activities or behaviors to target by teaching a routine, perform a task analysis of the
routine, determine how to teach the routine and what structures and supports will
support that instruction, and determine how inevitable changes in routine will be
addressed.
Post-Assessment
Post-Assessment
Rules and routines support individuals with ASD by addressing which of the following
characteristics?
Select an answer for question 612
Rules and routines are two different components of establishing behavioral boundaries
and expectations.
Select an answer for question 613
The structure and predictability of rules and routines allow individuals with ASD to
manage information and meet the expectations of an environment.
Select an answer for question 614
Rules should be:
Select an answer for question 615
Routines can help support the development of functional skills.
Select an answer for question 616
Rules and routines are more comprehensible when paired with visual supports.
Select an answer for question 617
Discussion Questions
[ Export PDF with Answers | Export PDF without Answers ]
1. Discuss the differences between rules and routines. Why
are these distinctions important?
A correct response would include:
Rules are statements defining behavior permissible in given situations or
environments, whereas routines detail the steps required in carrying out
certain actions. Because rules and routines are often discussed together, it is
important to distinguish between the two in order to ensure that both are being
addressed. Establishing rules does not eliminate the need for routines and
vice versa.
2. Discuss the connection between rules and routines. How do
rules and routines support each other?
A correct response would include:
Each is a different strategy for establishing behavioral boundaries and
expectations. After clearly defining rules for an individual with ASD it becomes
easier to target the behaviors and routines that will facilitate compliance with
the established rules.
3. Identify some rules and routines in your own life. Describe
the structures that support these rules and routines.
A correct response would include:
For example, many individuals have waking up' routines. This might begin
with an alarm going off, followed by a shower, dressing, drinking a coffee and
having a bite to eat. Structures that facilitate completion of this routine may
include setting the alarm to music rather than a beep, because one may find it
more motivating to wake to music. Another example could be pre-preparing
the coffee maker in the evening before going to bed. A rule associated with
this routine may be that family members will wake one another if they are
more than ten minutes late getting out of bed.
4. Why are rules and routines important for individuals with
ASD?
A correct response would include:
The predictability of clearly defined rules and routines promotes
understanding and participation. Specifically, individuals with ASD may rely on
rules and routines to reduce confusion, to make predictions about an event,
and then to meet the expectations of the environment.
Citation and References
If included in presentations or publications, credit should be given to the authors of this
module. Please use the citation below to reference this content.
Carnahan, C., & Snyder, K. (2011). Rules and routines: Online training module
(Columbus, OH: OCALI). In Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI), Autism
Internet Modules, www.autisminternetmodules.org. Columbus, OH: OCALI.
REFERENCES
Carnahan, C., Hume, K., Clarke, L., & Borders, C. (2009). Using structured work to
promote independence and engagement for students with autism spectrum disorders.
Teaching Exceptional Children, 41(4), 6 - 14.
Hodgdon, L. A. (2005). Solving behavior problems in autism: Improving communication
with visual strategies. Troy, MI: QuirkRoberts Publishing.
Hume, K., & Odom, S. (2007). Effects of an individual work system on the independent
functioning of student with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37,
1166-1180.
Mesibov, G. B., Shea, V., & Schopler, E. (2005). The TEACCH approach to autism
spectrum disorders. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
Myles, B. S., Grossman, B. G., Aspy, R., Henry, S. A., & Bixler Coffin, A. (2007).
Planning a comprehensive program for individuals with ASD spectrum disorders using
evidence-based practices. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 42(4),
398-409.
National Research Council (2001). Educating Children with Autism. Lord, C. & McGee,
J.P. (Eds.), Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Reed, P. & Gibson, E. (2005). The effect of concurrent task load on stimulus
overselectivity. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35(5), 601-614.
Schuler, A. L. (1995). Thinking in autism: Differences in learning and development. In K.
A. Quill (Ed.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies to enhance communication and
socialization (pp.11-32). New York: Delmar Publishers.
Swanson, T. (2005). Provide structure for children with learning and behavioral
problems. Intervention in School and Clinic, 40, 182-187.
Tien, K. C., & Lee, H. J. (2007). Structure/modifications. In S. Henry & B. S. Myles
(Eds.), The comprehensive autism planning system (CAPS) for individuals with
Asperger Syndrome, autism, and related disabilities: Integrating best practice
throughout the student's day (pp. 23-44). Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger
Publishing Company.
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