Anyone who has children has probably heard about the importance of establishing a routine. It is a way of organizing a complicated and sometimes stressful life to build up a sense of stability and security. For children with special needs, who are more likely to be stressed by everyday occurrences and are less able to adapt to challenging situations, routine is even more important, and special needs education should recognize this.
Why do children with special needs in particular need routines
Everyday life is more stressful for children with autism, sensory processing issues or intellectual disabilities. Even the most basic tasks, such as getting washed and dressed, present opportunities for sensory overload. Interacting with people, especially strangers, often means having to exert an inordinate amount of effort just to try and conform to social norms. The world can seem a chaotic and overwhelming place, which can lead to frequent anxiety. A routine is one way to try and exert some control and order on the chaos.
Advantages of a routine for children in special needs education
There are several reasons that routines are important to children with special needs and should therefore be incorporated into special needs classes. Most obviously, it provides structure. There is no uncertainty or confusion about what is happening next, no need to rapidly improvise a response to an unexpected situation. It means the child can trust their surroundings and the people around them, relieving some of the stress that, for those with special needs, can often accompany even the most basic tasks.
Handled properly, a carefully constructed routine can even help during times of change. If it is time to go from one activity to another, especially if they are enjoying the current activity, it may be hard for the child to redirect their attention. A transition routine can signal that the current session is coming to an end and help prepare the child for the change. It is almost akin to a night-time routine, where you slowly wind down from playing to story time to brushing teeth to bed. You can use particular phrases or songs to tell children that a transition is coming.
How routine can be incorporated into special needs classes
You can establish routines throughout lessons and break times for students with autism, intellectual disabilities and other learning difficulties. Students should know when the day will start, what they will be studying, be prepared to move from one lesson to another and know when break and mealtimes will occur. Routines also mean practising the same thing over and over again, which is important for developing new skills. You can even incorporate routines into play. When the child is fully engaged and having fun, this can be one of the most effective times for them to learn. Play routines can become another type of lesson.
Routines are incredibly important to children with special needs, particularly those with autism and sensory processing issues, as a way to organize a stressful and confusing world. Routine in special needs education offers children the best opportunity to make the most of their lessons and ensure that they are in an effective learning environment where their anxiety is minimized.