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Functional Routines & Task Analysis for Students with Autism

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

For students with autism, the routines and activities of daily living can be challenging. In this lesson, you will learn about functional routines and task analysis, which can be used to teach students to master these situations.

Functional Routines and Task Analysis

Functional routines are regularly occurring events that require a consistent set of behaviors to achieve a goal. For example, a functional routine for getting ready for school might include getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, and packing a backpack. This set of behaviors is expected on a regular basis, and achieves the goal of going to school. Some functional routines have a broader scope, such as getting ready for school or packing up to go home. Some functional routines have a narrower focus, such as washing hands or writing down homework.

In order to complete functional routines, teachers and parents must use task analysis. Task analysis is the process of breaking a task into its component steps. After identifying the steps required to complete a task, you must ensure that the student has the necessary skills to complete each step. Then the steps are explicitly taught so that the student is equipped to complete the entire task. When you think carefully, you may be surprised how many steps and skills are involved in a simple task.

If a student is struggling, it is important for teachers and parents to work together to identify functional routines that are relevant to the student and prioritize which routines to address first. These routines may be classroom routines or academic tasks. In the next two sections, we will look at a couple specific examples of how to use task analysis to explicitly teach functional routines to a struggling student.

Classroom Routines: Arrival Procedures

Transitions can be a confusing time for students with autism. The first transition of the day, arrival, sets the tone for the rest of the day, so it is beneficial to create a functional routine based on the classroom's arrival procedures. Let's look at a sample classroom.

1. Begin by analyzing the task: what are the expectations for the student?

  • Remove coat/hat and place on hook.
  • Remove homework folder from backpack. Place homework in the teacher's bin and place folder in desk.
  • Hang backpack on hook.
  • Go to the classroom lunch chart. Select popsicle stick with name and place it in the appropriate column: lunch from home, buying hot lunch, or buying cold lunch.
  • Sit in desk and begin work on morning work that is listed on the board.

2. Identify: what component skills are necessary to participate in this functional routine?

  • Motor skills: zip/unzip, hang, remove items, place items in correct locations.
  • Identification of one's own space - coat hook, desk.
  • Communication of personal choice - lunch selection.
  • Organization and initiative - performing steps independently.

3. Assess the student: do they have the skills necessary to perform each step? Teach skills individually if necessary.

  • Note: At this point in the process, it may become necessary to introduce modifications or accommodations.
  • Accommodation: If the coat hooks are labelled with names, for a student who is not yet able to read their own name, their photograph could be added beside their name.
  • Modification: For a student who lacks motor skills and cannot hang the jacket/backpack on a hook, a modification might be a crate beside the hook where that student can place their belongings.

4. Teach the task. Once the student has been taught component skills, put them together and teach the steps in order.

  • With the student alone in the appropriate area, model the arrival routine.
  • Support the student in performing practice runs of the arrival routine in the appropriate area without others present.
  • During arrival time, support the student in performing the arrival routine.
  • Reduce support until the student is able to perform the arrival routine independently.

Academic Tasks: Summarize an Article

Functional routines are part of a variety of academic tasks. As an example, let's examine the steps of summarizing an article.

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