Provincial Outreach Program for Students with Deafblindness


A learner with deafblindness depends on routines for learning and living. Here are some ideas about routines in the educational program.

What do we mean by the word "routines?"

  • A routine is any activity that occurs regularly and frequently, with the same sequence of physical actions by the learner, with the same people, materials, locations and routes.
  • Active physical participation from set-up through clean up is also part of the educational concept of routines.
  • For a learner with deafblindness at school, any activity that occurs a few times per day or per week, or even once a week for sure, may become a routine.



Routines are essential to our learners because:

  •  Learn by doing. Learners with deafblindness need to be body learners, through motion and touch. S/he needs to organize the world, not so much by visual images, sounds or words, as by the physical feel of the motions, positions, shapes and textures of things and people s/he interacts with. Routines allow learning by doing.
  • Repetition is the only way to learn by doing. To learn an activity with your body requires many, many repetitions. Routines build the repetitions naturally into the school program.
  • Physically interacting with their world is the only way the learner with deafblindness can begin to understand it. The learner with deafblindness builds understanding of the world and how it operates by physically moving in it, using objects, and interacting with people. For example, things stay where you put them so you know where to find them; things come from places and go back to those places, they don't just magically appear and disappear.
  • Competence and a sense of being in control of one's life comes from routine. With routine, the learner is able to predict and anticipate what will happen next. The individual can learn specific actions and responses that make the learner a doer, mover, and initiator in the routine. Routines allow learners to become active participants and self determiners in his/her own life.
  • The natural way of organizing time for our learners is as a sequence of routines. Clock time and calendar time are abstract; they are no use unless we first understand the concrete cycle of activities.
  • Consistent feedback is the key to learning for learners with deafblindness. A problem for learning with an individual with deafblindness is that s/he does not often see or hear the results of his/her actions. S/he does not know if the action produced a good or bad result. The learner then lacks the information for choosing a successful action in the future. That's how all learning occurs: Act - Assess the Feedback - Adjust the next Action. Routines allow for consistent feedback.


Frame the day and week as a sequence of routines

  • Routines can be the basis for organizing curriculum for the learner with deafblindness.
  • Identify routines that comprise eac school day. A routine has a distinct start, middle, and end.
  • Assign an object cue for each routine. These object cues form the calendar system that allows the learner to make sense of the day. For more on communication and calendars, click here.
  • Identify a routine that signifies each day of the school week.
  • Increasingly complex and increasingly abstract representation of the day and week will grow over the years, but it will start with object cues for routines.


Functional Routines

  • The concept of "Functional Routines" is important for the learner with deafblindness who has little formal language and/or have deafblindness with multiple disabilities.
  • Functional Routines have a reason or purpose beyond a single "therapeutic" or "academic" goal area. Routines are a piece of everyday life in which the learner is becoming an active participant. Functional routines can form the basis of a curriculum for most learners who are deafblind.
  • The learner can make sense of a functional routine asn activity of daily life, such as self care (e.g., lunch), or recreation (e.g., swimming), or helping in the classroom (e.g., reporting the weather), or being with peers (e.g., band class). The learner can increase his/her level of participation or competence within an activity.
  • "Learn it where you need to use it" is the philosophy behind functional learning. Activities that are "therapeutic" or "academic" may work on skills without context so the learner does not know how these skills fit into life or how they increase one's competence in life, or how they make life rich and enjoyable.
  • Functional routines begin with the "real activity" and then develop the skills needed within it. The skills may be the same as "therapeutic" or "academic" ones but they immediately make the learner a more active participant in the real activity. The skills are immediately "functional" for the learner.
  • Functional routines are a powerful "therapy" tool. Instead of drilling skills in one or two sessions per week, the Intervenor can build the skills into the routine, where they may be worked on many times in a day.


Routines and Educational Goals - How do they fit together?

Any routine can work on most educational goals. Typically, the learner will have goals in areas such as communication, fine motor, gross motor, social development, hearing, and vision. Functional routines require every one of those functions.

Choose the routine first, then plan how to work on goals within it. Look for opportunities to work on all of the goals. For example, if there is a fine motor goal for developing grasp and release, look at all the routines of the day and week for situations where the learner might need to pick up and put things down.



Many sub-routines occur within the main routines of the day. Sub-routines do not have their own object cues and spots in the calendar. For example, a learner may be working on a sub-routine for "greeting." Opportunities for greeting may occur in several times over the course of the day and week. Essentially, the same greeting script would be used with different people in different contexts.


Consistency and Organization Count

Routines help the individual learn that the world is predictable and that one can exercise some control through one's actions. A routine needs to unfold as the learner expects. Things and people need to be where they are expected to be and to do what they are expected to do. Switches need to work. The Intervenor needs to devote some dedication to consistence and organization.


Same Routines all Year

Variety is not the spice of life for learners with deafblindness. Routine is. Over the school year, a learner comes to understand a routine, to anticipate and become competent with it. Within a routine, the learner can attain educational objectives and move on to new ones. The Intervenor increases expectations or introduces variations and expansions.


Some Finer Points of Routines

  • Gradually pass responsibility to the learner. In the beginning, the routine may need to be shaped by the Intervenor. Gradually, the Intervenor passes little bits of responsibility to the learner.
  • Allow time for the learner's pace. Routines are quick and efficient if you do everything yourself but the individual does not learn. Allow twice as much time for the routine as it "should" take.
  • Follow the learner's interests. Even though consistency is very important, be aware of the learner's interests. Where is the learner's attention, gaze, or hands? Follow it and give it language. Take the teachable moment.
  • Expand routines. The same routine should look different for a five year old than when he is 17. Expanding routines over the years expands the scope and complexity of the learner's world. The five year old may just be learning to sit down for a snack while the 17 year old may be shopping, cooking, and growing vegetable.
  • Routines need to be meaningful for the learner. Functional routines need to be individually tailored to each of our unique learners.


Elements of a Good Routine at School

  • A "Functional Purpose." The routine should make sense in one of the four ways - Self Care, Recreational, Helping in the Community, or Inclusion.
  • An Object Cue. The object cue is a concrete word that represents a specific routine.
  • Participation from Set-up to Clean Up. The learner does not sit and wait for the Good Fairy who makes things appear and disappear. The learner is physically involved in getting and organizing materials and then putting away and cleaning up. Many of the best opportunities for working on educational goals occur in the set-up and clean up portion of routines.
  • Need for Expressive Communication. Every routine of the day should develop the learner's disposition to communicate expressively.
  • Need for Receptive Communication. Learners normally learn to understand language as a result of hearing words and sentences used frequently and interactively in context. Daily routines are idea context for language learning. Appropriate verbal, object, and sign labels along with brief verbal descriptions should be paired in a consistent, predictable manner with what is happening in the routine. This input, repeated over and over, helps the learner develop comprehension skills. Observe and expect specfic responses to cue words, signs, and symbols.
  • Interaction with Others Besides the Intervenor. Social and communication skills develop with interactions with the Intervenor and also with peers and other adults in the school and community. The interactions may be scripted so the roles are clear for each party or they may be facilitated by the Intervenor who creates a topic.
  • Purposeful Use of Hands (or head or feet). The learner's hands make things happen in the routine. Hands do the taking and putting, opening and closing, and using of objects.
  • Purposeful Use of Vision. What visual function does the learner need to develop in order to become a more active participant in the routines of the school day?
  • Purposeful Use of Hearing. What auditory function does the learner need in order to become a more active participant in the routines of the school day?
  • Purposeful Use of Other Senses. Touch, smell, taste, proprioception, and balance may be important in helping the learner make sense and participate actively in the routines of the day.
  • Purposeful Use of Large Muscles. The opportunity here is to work on Gross Motor goals in the context of all the functional routines of the day.
  • Purposeful Use of Mobility. The learner does not stay in one place during the routine, but has reasons to move in the environment. For the learner who is developing independent mobility, the routine gives it purpose.
  • Motivation for the Student. Motivation is the magic ingredient. The learner will do amazing feats of learning and developing if his/her motivation is high. What aspects of the routine does the learner love? Does it make use of known likes of the learner and sugar-coat known dislikes? Does it make sense to the learner? Is there a concrete purpose or product the learner can understand and value? Is it fun?


By Gerald Harris. Updated by POPDB, 2017.