There is something about having routines that children and adults alike love. Whether it is a Sunday morning coffee treat, or reading a story to your child before bed, routines are a great opportunity for supporting regulation, learning and communication.
Daily routines can facilitate the development of your child’s communication skills. Often, the best outcomes for communication development involves practicing skills in everyday activities and situations (VEYLDF, 2018, Paul et al, 2011). By embedding communication opportunities in daily routines, you are ensuring your child is getting as much practice as possible, in a range of situations and with a range of people. This is particularly important for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), who can find it difficult to generalise skills (Brooke et al, 2012).
Daily routines look different for every family and depend on the age of your child. They may include mealtimes, travelling in the car together, getting ready to go out, bath time, sharing books, going shopping, or getting ready for bed. You may have your own special routines that are unique for your family, like a particular way you and your child sing a song or read a particular book.
Routines are done the same way every time and have a clear beginning and end. Routines naturally have a repetitive element and are predictable. You often use the same words every time and this helps your child to anticipate what is going to happen next (Rogers et al., 2012). This predictability reduces you child’s cognitive load and can support their availability for learning and communication. From an emotional perspective, routines can also help children to feel more secure and safe. Many routines have a social component as they are often fun and interactive.
Once your child is familiar with a routine you can think about what role or turn they could take. For example, you could wait for your child to look, point, or say ‘shoes’ before helping them put on their shoes. How your child will take their turn will depend on their current communication and developmental level.
Using daily routines with SCERTS communication stages
We discussed the evidence based SCERTS model in our previous blog post and you can find more information about SCERTS here.You can use the SCERTS communication stage (e.g. Social, Language and Conversation partner) to think about developmentally appropriate ways to support your child’s learning and communication in daily routines.
Using routines with a Social Partner (someone who communicates with gestures, behaviour and vocalisations (e.g. noises, sounds):
Think about your child’s current skills and plan for your child to have a turn in a motivating routine. For example, when singing a song (e.g. Round and round the garden) pause at the most exciting point and wait (e.g. “A tissue, a tissue, we all fall…”) to encourage your child to keep the interaction going. What you are waiting for will be individual to your child. You may be waiting for them to smile, show excitement in their body, or make a sound.
Using Routines with a Language Partner (someone who communicates with single words, short phrases, symbols, pictures, and signs):
Once you have established a routine and do it in the same way every time, you can mix things up to encourage your child to respond. Don’t be afraid to get silly! For example, in your morning during your ‘getting dressed’ routine, put a sock on your child’s hand, instead of their foot. This unexpected step will hopefully encourage your child to notice and communicate. You could also pause during a regular routine (e.g., getting dressed) to give your child an opportunity to tell you what to do next.
Using Routines with a Conversation Partner (someone who communicates with more creative phrases and sentences):
Your child might have some routines around specific topics of interest (e.g., Lego). You could develop a routine around building a Lego structure together and then talking about what you have built.
You could also take photos of an engaging routine you do together (e.g., going to the park or cooking) and use these photos as a support for your child to remember and talk about the experience.
Other ideas for supporting communication in everyday routines:
Think about starting and ending the routine in a similar way every time
Notice what parts of the routine your child likes by tuning in to your child’s body language, facial expressions, vocalisations
Think about how your child could take a turn in the routine (e.g. body movement, eye contact, smile, sound, sign, picture, word, phrases etc)
Think about how your child could ask for more/ again in the routine
Repeat routines often to help your child learn the routine and to take a turn
What routines could you try at home to support your child with their communication skills? It may be helpful to start with a routine that you child enjoys and is motivated by. Have fun bringing communication alive in daily routines!
Written by Speech Pathologists Aria May and Sally Grauaug
Degotardi, S., Torr, J., & Nguyen, N. T. (2016). Infant–toddler Educators’ Language Support Practices during Snack-time. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 41(4), 52–62. https://doi.org/10.1177/183693911604100407
Ingersoll, B, Meyer, K., Bonter, N., Jelinek, S. ( 2012). A comparison of developmental social-pragmatic and naturalistic behavioural interventions on language use and social engagement in children with autism Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research Vol. 55, Iss. 5, : 1301-1313. DOI:10.1044/1092-4388(2012/10-0345)
Paul, D. & Roth, F., (2011) Guiding principles and clinical applications for speech-language pathology practice in early intervention. Language, Speech, & Hearing Services in Schools, Vol.42 (11), p.320
Rogers, S., Dawson, G., & Vismara, L. (2012) An Early Start for your child with autism, The Guilford Press, New York
Sussman, F., Honeyman, S., Lowry, L., & Drake, L. (2013) More than Words – The Hanen Program for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Hanen Centre.
Victorian State Government Department of Education and Training (2016), Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework. Retrieved 3 March 2018.