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Why Independent Activity Schedules are Useful

Independent activity schedules, often referred to as IAS, are common in many ABA programs and classrooms. Today we will address why independent activity schedules are useful.

I have a student who I’ve been working with since he was 12. We taught some independent activity schedules a long time ago. Now he’s 27 and he still uses them. They look completely different. They’re not picture schedules anymore, but he’s got phone apps that will pop up and remind him to do certain things at certain times. He has an alarm to wake him up if he’s not already up. Then in the bathroom, he’s got a showering schedule that goes through all the steps of the shower. He follows another schedule for meal prep. So he’s got all of these little mini schedules throughout his day. And they’re all independent. It really started by teaching an independent activity schedule.

What is an Independent Activity Schedule?

So let’s first quickly define what an independent activity schedule is. It can look different depending on the setting. Generally, it could be a schedule of pictures, or a checklist or text. And it really is like a to do list. First do this, then do that, and then do that. Usually, the last thing is something more preferred. You work through your checklist of to-dos and at the end, you get something preferred. 

The reason that we teach this is because it’s such a huge life skill that our students should be able to work independently. Very often when we’re working one on one with students, they become very dependent on somebody taking them through their day and telling them exactly what to do, when to do it and how to do it. And if they don’t do it, we’re going to help them through it. We mean well when we do that, but we forget that our students really need to be independent. So putting in some sort of IAS schedule means that they can learn to be independent. 

Independent Activity Schedule Ideas

What skills are they learning to be independent with? Well, there’s a whole bunch of skills that are embedded within this routine. There are skills like task initiation – knowing to start your schedule. Go to the first thing first, don’t start with a fifth line or the fourth line. You get task completion at the end of each activity. Finish the task, put it away, and then travel, find the next task, and problem solve if that task is not there. 

What if you know something is on your schedule, but you don’t have the materials to do it? That’s a great problem solving skill, learning how to transition between activities. So if the first task was at this table, and the other task is at the other table, I have to know how to go from one table to the next. This entire time, the expectation is to stay on task. So you might start by having to stay on task for two minutes and build up to a 20 minute IAS activity so that they’re able to stay on task for that entire time. 

Task Analysis and Data Collection

We’ll take data on either the number of prompts we have to give – and hopefully those prompts will decrease over time – or we’ll write down a task analysis. Now, we love to use the task analysis template to be able to break it down so that you can see what might be falling apart at each step. Are they not able to move from one task to the next, or they’re not able to put it away? What is happening that they’re struggling with? The task analysis will really give you that idea.

Click below to get your free Task Analysis template.

Teaching an Independent Activity Schedule ABA

The more that a student can be independent with all of those skills involved in the IAS routine, the more life long skills they will gain. The real focus is independence. It’s really important not to embed yourself in the teaching interaction, because we want to create independence. So instead of having somebody say, “Okay, go get this next material, look, it’s over there, oh, check it out over there.” We want to be able to have pictures or text cues, be able to direct our learners to be able to do the next thing. It’s very similar to if we wrote ourselves to do lists. Ideally, that to-do list is cueing us to get those things done. We’re cueing our students that way. 

So when you are teaching it, make sure that you are not embedding yourself in the teaching interaction. Try to be as quiet as you possibly can. Stand behind the student when you’re teaching so that you’re not right beside them and not in the way. Then they won’t associate you with that task so that you can have them become as independent as possible. Later on in life, it looks very great when a student can go about their entire day following these many schedules.

Why Independent Activity Schedules are Useful

So why is it important for students to be independent for like 20 or 30 minutes? The teacher has to be able to manage all these students, whether there’s 10 students or 30 students. Some of the students have to be able to work independently so that the teacher can work with another student, especially students who don’t learn well with frontal teaching and need to learn in small groups. While the teacher is working with one small group of students, another group of students can be working independently and they have the skills to do that for about 20 or 30 minutes. 

The other reason it’s really important is that a lot of the kids that we work with don’t know how to fill their time. Leisure skills are very challenging for them, also, either because they’re used to somebody helping them through that, or they just don’t have the skills to be able to entertain themselves. It’s very challenging for parents to have them at home without being able to constantly entertain them or manage them. So being able to teach them to go through a 20 or 30 minute leisure activities schedule means that parents can have some time to shower or cook dinner, and the child can be properly engaged with something that they actually enjoy. Because if it’s a leisure activity schedule, then they’re doing something leisure, something enjoyable, and they’re able to do it independently.

So in summary, we define what an independent activity schedule is, but more importantly, why independent activity schedules are useful. And that can be for a variety of reasons, but the main reason being independence both at school and at home.

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