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Six Tips for Helping Complex Learners Manage Routines

Thursday, October 29, 2015

 

Most of us have a host of routines we follow throughout the day. You probably wake up around the same time on weekdays. Maybe you prefer to skip breakfast or you always have oatmeal. You might have a standing meeting on Tuesdays or go to the gym after work. At the end of the night you read in bed or you’re someone who falls asleep watching the news.

Whatever the case, you understand the structure of your days and these routines are second nature. You don’t have to put a lot of thought into how things will go.

But imagine if you did have to think about it. Imagine if every day you weren’t sure what to do first. Should I brush my teeth or make toast? Should I find something to wear or make my bed? Do I need these papers for work? Am I supposed to be somewhere early today?

Suddenly your world would become confusing and hard to manage. Everything would require a decision, and every decision might feel like the wrong one. The whole process would overwhelm you and before you even got out the door you’d be exhausted.

Welcome to the world of a Complex Learner. As individuals who can be anxious, distracted, or rigid, Complex Learners are especially in need of routine to make their lives predictable and safe. At the same time, their interferences to learning get in the way of establishing and maintaining this structure. Here are a few ways parents and teachers can help:

1) Create a predictable schedule.  This seems obvious but it’s something that needs to be clearly communicated and consistently implemented. Have set times for waking up, leaving the house for school, homework, dinner, and bedtime. Schedule video game time, chores, quiet time, or whatever other activities happen regularly for your child. A daily schedule in school that clearly spells out class subjects, transitions, what happens when and what teachers the student will be working with makes for a smoother day.

2) Establish the plan. The steps necessary to complete a task or activity aren’t always obvious to Complex Learners. By breaking things down and letting kids know what comes first, second, third, and so on, you help create a manageable routine. Depending on the age of the child, this could include anything from brushing your teeth, transitioning to another classroom in school, packing a back pack, cleaning the bedroom, going to dinner at a restaurant, attending soccer practice, managing a play date or tackling homework.

3) Preview. This is such an easy thing to do and it makes a big difference for Complex Learners. By going over what is going to happen before it happens, kids get a chance to process things without the pressure of carrying out the plan. This takes away the anxiety of a new situation. It also shows that we’re all in this together and everyone is on the same page. For example, if you preview a visit from grandparents you would let a child know when they were arriving, what you were going to do during the visit, any behaviors or issues you anticipate, and when they are going to leave. In school you might preview field trips, class visitors, or picture day so students have a good understanding of what is going to happen and what is expected of them.

4) Use visual supports. This could be anything from a central calendar that the whole family uses, to a daily schedule written out and posted in your child’s room. Creating a checklist with each step of a routine spelled out makes tasks less daunting and allows kids to focus their mental energy on achieving the goal. This could be for a block of time (e.g., what has to happen during the morning routine) or for a specific activity (e.g., steps involved in brushing your teeth or what goes in your backpack to bring to school). Depending on your child’s age and learning preferences, these lists can be written or can be created using pictures.  It also helps to carry a small white board with you to write or draw out expectations on the go or if something new comes up.

5) Timing is everything. Most Complex Learners have a poor sense of time and sequencing. It may take them an extraordinarily long time to get dressed or they may have no understanding of how long a homework assignment will take. Using timers and clocks is a great way to help kids learn how long tasks should take and helps set limits. A particularly helpful tool is a Time Timer. This clock uses a red disk to show the passage of time in a visual way.  It can be extremely helpful for home, school, in the car and on vacation.  Time Timers come in a variety of sizes to fit a variety of needs. You can find their products at http://www.timetimer.com.

6) Teach Flexibility. It’s important to balance the need for following set routines with the ability to adapt to change. Not everything is predictable and flexibility is a skill that Complex Learners need to be taught. Talk about flexibility directly and point out instances when your child or people around them are being flexible. Use unstructured time as a way to give kids a sense of control over their own time, but provide some set choices so the options don’t feel overwhelming.

Depending on a child’s needs and personality, some of these strategies might work better than others. Use a variety of supports to create structure for Complex Learners and as they grow and change you can make adaptations or try something new. Adults, after all, need to learn these things too, and modeling flexibility is a great way to show kids how to manage routines.

Anna Johnson is Head of School at The Wolf School in East Providence, a K-8 private special education school serving complex learners.  www.thewolfschool.org 

 

Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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