Student is folding laundry on a countertop beside the dryer. Expand Image
Student and Intervenor engaged in laundry routine.

Many students with deafblindness depend on routines for learning and living. Routines give the individual an opportunity to learn the skills and concepts they need in meaningful contexts. Routines can be the basis for a student's curriculum and meaningfully incorporate the goals and objectives of the Individual Education Plan (IEP). Read on for information and ideas about routines, and how they might be useful for your student's educational program. 

What do we mean by "routines?"

  • A routine is any activity that occurs regularly and frequently, with the same sequence of physical actions by the student, 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 student 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. Students with deafblindness need to be body learners, through motion and touch. 
  • Repetition is the only way to learn by doing. To learn an activity with your body requires many, many repetitions.
  • Physically Interacting with the world is the only way a student with deafblindness can begin to understand it. A student with deafblindness builds understanding of the world and how it operates by physically moving in it, using objects, and interacting with people. 
  • Competence and a sense of being in control of one's life comes from routine because the student can predict and anticipate what will happen next. Routines allow learners to become active participants and self determiners in their own life. 
  • The natural way of organizing time for our students is as a sequence of routines. Clock time and calendar time are abstract; they are not useful until we first understand the concrete cycle of activities. 
  • Consistent and respectful feedback is the key to learning for learners with deafblindness. 
  • Routines can be the basis for organizing curriculum for the learner with deafblindness.

Functional Routines

The concept of "Functional Routines" is important for a student with deafblindness who is working to develop formal language and/or has additional complexities. 

Functional Routines have a reason for purpose beyond a single "therapeutic" or "academic" goal area. They are a piece of everyday life which the learner is becoming an active participant. Functional routines can form the basis of a curriculum for most learners who are deafblind. 

The student can make sense of a functional routine as an 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 their 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 student 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 an active participant in the real activity. The skills are immediately meaningful or purposeful for the learner. 

Functional routines are a powerful "therapy" tool. Instead of rehearsing isolated 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. This also leads to concept development because the student puts all the skills together to develop an understanding of the purpose of the task or activity. 

Routines and Educational Goals - How do they fit together?

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

First, choose the routine, 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 throughout the week 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 student 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 their actions. A routine needs to unfold as the student expects it to. 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. Technology needs to be charged. Intervenors need to devote some dedication to consistence and organization in order for routines to work.

Same Routines all Year

Variety is not the spice of life for all students with deafblindness. Routine is. Over the school year, a student 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.

Finer Points to Good Routines

  • Gradually pass responsibility to the student. 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 they are 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 vegetables. 
  • Routines need to be meaningful to the student. Functional routines need to be individually tailored to each of our unique learners. 

When we evaluate routines, good ones tend to reflect most, if not all these 13 elements. Feel free to download the following handout to guide you in developing good routines. 

13 Elements of a Good Routine Handout

By Gerald Harris. Updated by POPDB, 2023.

Routines are opportunities for students with deafblindness to be included in the class and interact with peers while working on many of their Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals. Read on for an example of a job where the student returns three journals to classmates. 

In this example, the student's routine will be to return 3 journals to classmates. Remember, routines will vary from student to student based on their abilities and communication. Feel free to talk to your POPDB Teacher-Consultant for help with developing routines. 


  • Make sure each classmate has a name sign.
  • Make two sets of photos of each classmate - one goes on the journal and one is in an album for the learner with deafblindness. Ensure clarity of photos, eliminate glare.
  • Make 2 sets of printed names of classmates - one goes in the album under the classmate's picture while the other is kept in a small container.

Routine for the Learner with Deafblindness:

  • Go to the place where the journals are kept.
  • At this place, match the journal photo with the album photo to identify the classmate.
  • Talk to the learner about the photo and model the peer's name sign.
    Search for the classmate in the room and take the journal to the peer.
  • Repeat with the other two journals.

The next step would be to have the student match the classmate's printed name to the printed name on the book, then match the printed name to the photo on the book.

Scripted Interactions:

With the teacher:

  • To let the teacher know that the student is going to do their job now, they might give the teacher an object or picture cue in exchange for 3 journals.
  • Be sure to get the cue back from the teacher when the job is done. The teacher would sign and say "Thank you, _______." The student places the cue in their finished box.

With classmates:

  • The student signs "Hi _______." The classmate signs back, "Hi _______." The student with deafblindness gives the journal to their classmate. The classmate signs, "Thank you, _______."