Communication-Based Routine

Two students are very attentive as their teacher helps pour milk into the ice cream machine.
Two students are very attentive as their teacher helps pour milk into the ice cream machine.

Any routine can and should be focused on communication. But while some routines may primarily be focused on teaching a student how to complete a specific task like cooking breakfast or getting dressed, a communication-based routine is about building language and concepts around people, places and how things work in the world. It is also about social interaction and bonding. We are not as interested in how the student is able to complete each step independently, but rather on how engaged the child is with us, what he/she has to share about the activity,  and how willing he/she is to follow the routine with us until the end. 

Some children may be developmentally too young to participate fully in a routine because of short attention spans, trust issues, or other factors. None-the-less activities of daily living may allow opportunities for communication interactions when you have time to make that the focus.  If the child is very hungry you may not have time to focus on dinner conversation, but during snack time that might be possible. You may also use shorter, turn-taking games to begin to build attention and communication skills for participation in longer communication-based routines. For example, waiting for a particular signal from the child before you take your turn. 

Things to consider when building communication-based routines:

    • Establish a repetitive structure for conversations so the student has many opportunities to initiate a communication.
    • Include multiple turns and practice.
    • Establish predictable steps for maintaining interaction.
    • Add novelty once the student clearly anticipates the routine steps; this may provide a reason for the student to comment and it also helps to keep him/her engaged. For example, instead of having a wooden spoon to stir the chocolate syrup into the milk, use a metal spoon or one that is much larger or much smaller. 
    • Within the structure create opportunities for the student to request, reject, label, comment, etc.
    • Consider your students’ likes and dislikes when looking for topics to build these routines around.
    • Make it fun for everyone involved!

Emotional Tension

One important factor in developing communication skills has to do with creating emotional tension. Science has shown us that memory and emotions are tied together in the function of our brains. When we have an experience, we need to have time to reflect on our feelings or the emotional part of the experience as well as the events that make up the experience. We also benefit when we are given words to label the feelings we have. We can create emotional tension through our body language and body tension. For example, when something surprising or novel occurs during a familiar routine, we can show our surprise by exaggerating our movements in some way. We can watch for ways the student shows emotion (pleasure, surprise, curiosity) and talk about his/her feelings. 

Videos: Communication-Based Routines

Making Dog Biscuits Routine 

In this video, you will see a group activity with TVI Chris Montgomery and Tania, a student who is deafblind, making dog biscuits. We’re much less worried about how great the doggie treats come out than we are about the experience, language, learning, and fun we’re having.

Ray Bakes Cookies

During this routine, Ray and his teacher use the platform of “baking cookies” to infuse the larger topics of language, concepts development, and conversation into a fun activity. This is a good example of a multistep, sequenced, routine – notice the use of the sequence box for putting the items for the routine in their specific order. This allows for our clear beginning, middle, end, as well as for labeling each item (or step) within the routine.
As you may notice, the skill of baking is secondary to teaching communication, and having fun interactions while doing it. Notice the techniques being used for auditory training, hand-under-hand/tactile communication, and how Ray and his teacher are positioned so that they can interact with the baking items, and also each other.