Many of our families are struggling teaching functional routines such as dressing, hand washing, what to do when you are leaving the house, how to clean up after eating, etc. When we were in the classroom, we worked on these skills and kept data on these routines and skills daily. During remote learning, I am using many resources to help families carry over the strategies into the home. My team and I meet with families and work with our learners through video conference calls each day. They all have their own 1:1 scheduled time where we work on IEP goals, functional routines, behavior, academics, social skills, play skills, etc. I will review some of my favorite resources and ideas for teaching independence in the classroom and in the home, here!
One very large way that we practice independence is in the area of communication. My amazing speech/language pathologist has worked so hard in getting PECS books and modified core boards with movable pictures in our learner’s hands. When we were in the classroom, she would send home pictures and PECS books in order for families to carry over communication skills learned throughout the day. Having communication books in the home help generalize and practice communication in more areas than just during school time. The speech/language pathologist uses remote learning and video conferencing with families in order to teach the phases of PECS and the reasons why communication is so important.
Our learners thrive on schedules! Check out my post here to see what schedule each learner might need. In the classroom, we have one large daily schedule, a circle time schedule, independent work schedules, and each learner has their own individual schedule. The type of schedule they use is based on their level of functioning and what they need in order to be independent while using it. We have also sent home visual schedules for use during remote learning.
Based on the necessity of each family, we have sent home morning routine schedules, daily schedules, arrival and departure visuals, brushing teeth visuals, hand washing visuals, bathroom visuals, and/or direction visuals (stand up, sit down, hands down, look at me). When we meet during our 1:1 time, my team and I frequently ask families how functional routines are going in the home. We are able to discuss what routines may be causing the most stress for the adults and/or children, which routines the child is independent in, and which routines they may have not been practicing. We coach the families on how to implement and use a schedule in their every day routines. My team and I help them through each day of teaching their child how to use them. An important reminder is that using a schedule is still a skill that needs to be taught.
I love using The Autism Helper adapted books! Especially for functional daily routines, these come in handy for use in teaching skills, reviewing skills and routines, and use for independent work once they are mastered. I am able to use my iPad as a document camera and have my learners interact with me in video conferencing while I move and match the pieces. I have also been lucky enough to print and prep these books to send home to my students. The following books have been life savers this Fall!
Video Models and Task Analysis
Using video models that I pre-record is a way that I help families learn and visualize what we talk about in conversations related to functional routines and independent play. When discussing a learner’s skills and areas of focus with families, I recommend using a task analysis. In other words, documenting all of the steps it takes to start and finish a routine or play sequence. This is what we use in the classroom in order to see where the breakdown of a skill is. Video models and task analysis work together to help families and staff see that routines and play schemes have many steps to them. It is important to see the routine broken down in parts rather than the routine as a whole.
Let’s look at hand washing as an example. A staff member or family member may say that a learner is unable to wash their hands independently. I always ask “what step are they having trouble with?” Their response may be “the whole thing.” I always challenge them to take the data by writing down the steps of the routine or play sequence in order to know how to intervene. Which step(s) causes the breakdown? Hand washing can have 10 steps! Take a look at all of the steps and see when the student requires prompts, and when they are independent.
- goes to the sink
- turns on the water
- puts hands in the water
- gets the soap
- rubs hands together
- rinses the bubbles
- turns the water off
- gets a towel
- rubs hands with the towel
- puts the towel in the garbage
Chores and Safety in the Community
The Pyramid Educational Consultants has shared a free PDF with a great listing of functional activities for younger and older students. This list is broken down into the following categories (one chart for younger students and one for older students):
- Outdoor domestic
- Simple meal prep ideas
- Self care
- Community skills
The Pyramid Educational Consultants lists activities within each area of focus that adults can practice with a learner. The routines and activities listed are great ways to practice independence. The list shares ways to generalize skills in the home and in the community while also maintaining safety.
Independent Work Tasks
In the classroom, each of our students have their own work task area. Their work task center is appropriate to their learning style and their level of functioning. For example; one student may have a 5 step drawer system with each drawer labeled with letters as their mini schedule. Another student may have two “put- in” tasks laid out on the table with a shape match mini schedule. There are MANY different types of drawer systems and work tasks! My team and I work together to find tasks where each student can be independent. During remote learning, I am encouraging families to use independent work tasks and systems in their homes. Some families set out two tasks on the kitchen table, one has 3 tasks at a little desk, my son has a 3 shelf system with a work table, and one family lays out tasks on the floor with a taped out square to define an “all done” space. Working with our learner’s families and using furniture they already have in their home helps not to add any more stress, especially during this pandemic! My wonderful paraprofessionals help me print and prep materials to be delivered to our learner’s homes every few weeks. This helps keep the independent work tasks rotating and engaging.
The top three rules we follow and teach to our families are:
- No talking! No talking to each other and no talking to the student. There is an adult stationed at the independent work center, however, if a child needs help, they are there to do hand over hand prompting from behind. Whether the learner needs help with the task or checking their schedule, they then fade away so the task is finished independently. We also wait for vocal praise until all tasks are finished and they are starting their transition.
- Do not undo the task in front of the child! This one is a big one in our classroom. School days get busy, and on many days, something unexpected and out of our control happens. If a child gets to the independent work center and the tasks are not set up, we are sure to give the learner a schedule picture while saying “oops, schedule change! ” This way we can send them over to the swing in the break area of the classroom. The adult quickly and efficiently sets up the tasks and mini schedules, and then gives the learner their independent work icon and has them start.
- Independent tasks ONLY! The independent work station is not the best time for teaching tasks. Tasks should be ones that are 100% consistent in being independent. There will be times where a child may struggle, or require some help. We all have days where we need reminders! A learner who is not able to match identical pictures should not be given a task where they have to sort items by their function.
Practicing independence in the home and in the classroom is important. These ideas and resources can be implemented now even during remote learning. My team and I want to teach our learners these skills so they can live and function in school, their homes, and their communities independently. We coach our families through video conference calls each day to encourage them even on the difficult days!