Rules and Routines

Many students with autism rely on rules and routines to keep their environment predictable and, therefore, feel safer. Educational professionals and parents must understand the importance of rules and routines for individuals with autism and apply them in various settings and situations. Application of rules and routines in school and home helps students with autism engage more successfully in activities and prevents problem behavior. Routines help create an efficient environment – they save time. When students know routines, they can perform daily activities more quickly. 

Video Demonstration Strategy

Credits: Amanda Arnold Elementary, Manhattan KS

Credits: Tri-State ASD Collaborative


Rules and Routines

How To Use

Generally, students with autism have rigid patterns of thinking. Their tendency to follow rules and routines often causes problems for adaptive functioning, including daily living skills, communication, and social interactions. Students may insist upon the same routine or environment and be upset or even have an emotional meltdown if the sameness is broken by unexpected changes or people.

However, this characteristic of autism can be applied in a positive way. For example, it is widely known that many individuals with autism benefit from structured environments in which they understand the rules and routines. Students with autism are more likely to engage in activities in those situations. For example, highly structured programs, such as the TEACCH model, the LEAP model, or Pivotal Response Training, show how consistent application of rules and routines facilitates student learning. Rules and routines must be established for a student to follow in class or other places in school,including transitions. It is suggested that the rules and routines be explained and stated using positive words (i.e. saying “Walk quietly in the hallway” instead of saying, “Do not run in the hallway”). The teacher may set up a time for the student to read and repeat the rules in a daily routine. It is also suggested that rules and routines be posted and presented to the student in a visual format. 

When To Use

Rules and routines can be used at home and school.

Implementation Checklist

The following steps may be used to develop rules and routines for a student:

1. Determine the most important rules or routines. Most students benefit from structure.

Observe the student’s daily routines and activities and prioritize individual needs.

2. Develop rules or desired behavior for a setting. Rules and routines can be developed differently depending on situations or people. For example, teachers can establish different rules for their classes. Rules need to be concise and observable. In addition, they should be stated using literally accurate and positive words to prevent confusion and posted in a visual format.

3. Teach the rules directly. Once rules are established, teach them to the student directly. Direct instruction gives a rationale for the rule and provides knowledge about how to use the information. To teach rules and routines, teachers may use modeling or social narrative strategies. The adult may also teach rules using behavioral strategies, including prompting, fading, shaping, and direct instruction.

4. Provide support. There is no specific way to provide rules or routines; however, supports

should be based on the student’s age, interests, and individual needs. Visual supports of

rules or routines are often very useful in enhancing student understanding of activities or sequences.

5. Evaluate and generalize rules and routines. Monitoring the student’s progress is an important part of instruction. In addition, the student should eventually be able to generalize the rules and routines to various settings.


  • For most students with autism, especially students who have limited skills in communication and other adaptive functioning, rules and routines must be directly taught. For instance, an activity schedule consisting of a set of pictures or words provides visual cues and helps the students know the sequence of activities. Social StoriesTM are also useful to introduce the rules and routines.


Classroom Rules

Raise hand when you have a question
Stay in seat for individual work
Work quietly
Walk in line to the cafeteria

Home Rules

Do homework before play
Make bed before eating breakfast
Change underwear everyday

School Routines

Steps for taking lunch count
Steps for handing in work
Steps for handing out work
Steps for getting ready to leave at the end of the day
Steps for lining up for recess
Steps for walking down the hall

Rules Example

Evan is a 16-year-old high school student. His social studies teacher, Ms. Johnson, was
concerned about Evan’s noncompliance during class and discussed his behavior with his
special education teacher, Ms. Smith. They agreed that Evan seemed not to understand
classroom rules and routines. The teachers developed rules for Evan and planned to teach
them on a regular basis in both the social studies class and the resource room. Both teachers established general rules that Evan should follow in every class (i.e., listen to the teacher when she or he is teaching in a class). Then they developed rules for the social studies class (i.e., sit in an assigned seat for a group activity). They introduced the rules to Evan and reviewed as necessary. Ms. Johnson reported that Evan’s noncompliant behavior decreased remarkably. She also found that his problem behavior in other places such as the cafeteria and hallway was reduced. They planned to expand the rules for Evan to deal with various settings and people.


Rules and routines can prevent problem behavior by providing information about what to do in a certain environment. Students can benefit from rules and routines as structure alleviates their confusion across settings and activities throughout the day.


Target: Texas Autism Resource Guide for Effective Teaching
TSLAT. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2016, from 

National Professional Development Center on ASD
Autism PDC. (n.d.). Retrieved August 29, 2016, from