Visual schedules are important: The Autism Files

Visual schedules are important: The Autism Files

visual schedule (on the far right)

When a child is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), therapists often suggest that parents develop a visual schedule. I thought this seemed a little strange when I was told to do it by my son’s speech pathologist, but went along for the ride ;). It turns out to be one of the most effective strategies you can use with ASD children.

What is a visual schedule?

A visual schedule is a series of pictures arranged on a board (or in a notebook, on a computer, or other device) that show the child what will be happening during a specific time period (usually a day).

Why are they used?

ASD children often experience the world as chaotic and confusing and subsequently have a greater need for structure and predictability in their life. The visual schedule can assist the child in understanding what is planned for the day or week and therefore provide this structure.

ASD children (and adults) often prefer the visual over auditory and the use of pictures helps them realise what will be happening next (in the absence of the ability to read or comprehend speech).

How do you make one?

There are many ways to make a visual schedule.

When my son needed a visual schedule around the age of three, I glued felt onto a wooden board and divided the board into the 7 days of the week (using coloured strips to divide the week and the name of the days at the top of each section). I am not a crafty person so this was no mean feat 🙂

7-day visual schedule with one day showing main activities via pictures

Some people prefer to have one day, instead of the whole week. Some will even have a shedules for part of the day (eg., at kindergarten).

I used clipart from the internet and photos (laminated and with a Velcro dot on the back of each picture) and anything else I could get my hands on, for use on the felt board. The picture is easily placed on the schedule using the velcro backing. Note: a laminator was a good investment, back then, and most of the parents from the early intervention centre invested in one ;).

I would place the pictures on the schedule in the morning (or night before when my son was asleep) so that he could see what was happening on that one day (I would leave the other 6 days blank except for a picture of kindergarten or home).

When the activity (eg., swimming lesson, lunch) is finished, the laminated picture can be removed (or crossed out with a laminated X). Most ASD children find this process of indicating the completion of an activity, very satisfying.

There are endless ways of making visual schedules (use your imagination). Some use laminated strips with velcro dots attached to a desk (at school), or on the board. Today the Ipad is being used for similar tasks with great success for ASD children.

How long do you use a visual schedule?

This depends on the child and the severity of the ASD.

My son now uses calendars, diaries and lists of activities (as he can now read and write) to assist in managing his day. We still use some visual schedules combined with text for important routines including 1. What to do before school in the morning; and 2. What to do before going to bed.

The internet is also a great source of information for finding clipart, images, and ways to make visual schedules.

Good luck!

ps. I am a great believer that schools should include visual schedules for all children, as everyone can benefit from schedules, especially young children.

16 thoughts on “Visual schedules are important: The Autism Files

  1. OMG, but he is cute with that hat on. Just adorable. It’s interesting about fussy eaters. I know a lot of boys who are, while the girls I know will try a lot of different things. I wonder if gender has anything to do with fussiness. Nick, who is now 15, is just starting to step out of his fussy eating box. For a while I thought he’d never branch out.

    The visual schedules are such a good idea and I can see how well they’d work in schools, particularly with kids who were still coming to grips with their reading. I think all teachers should use them.

    1. Thanks Selma – Michael is wearing his Dad’s hat (Crocodile Dundee style 😉 ) and sunglasses in that photo. I do think males are fussier eaters than females, in general and that they all improve with age (well there is a lot of pressure when you are an adult, to eat in an adult way at restaurants and stuff).

  2. I believe everyone needs to be educated on Autism. I have a granddaughter who has been tested numerous times and they believe her to just be slow and she well could be but sometimes it is still difficult to know. I admire that you have taken so much time with your son in discovering what can help and work for him in his life.

    1. Thanks Renee. It is frustrating when a diagnosis is just out of reach or the professionals are not sure. Hope the situation gets resolved. I had to really push to get my son’s diagnosis as they wanted to wait (but waiting is the worse thing to do, as early intervention between the ages of 3 and 6 is so important). I stuck to my guns and he got the diagnosis and therefore the services. There is no doubt now that the diagnosis was correct and because my son got early intervention, he is doing very well. Either way, visual schedules are very useful for all kids, not just those with special needs but particularly those who have difficulty in communicating with words.

  3. I made a visual reminder when the children were little to help get them organised for school. I used contact in those days, before laminators were born. It was mostly for my ASD child, but they all liked it – photos of them making their bed, having breakfast, doing their teeth, etc. My ASD child only stopped using it recently – 16 yrs. since it was first made. It saved a lot of verbal reminders in the morning. I could just say “Go to the chart – have you done everything?” It is now in the special box, which has fond memories of their childhood.

    1. Thanks Jane. You are right – visual schedules and lists of activities that need to be done before bed etc., save on a lot of prompting and reminding (and nagging – haha) and I highly recommend them for all parents of young children. I have a special box too – which has all the PECs and laminated pictures – the kids love to look through them. I really started to enjoy the visual schedule (after the initial resistance and confusion about how to do it – what is this stuff called laminate, velcro etc., haha – I really am a crafty dunce.).

  4. In enjoyed reading the lessons for autistic kids , They are a means of tutorial too for parents and other people interested to help children who are autistic . We need more of these in the near future.

    1. If I was a visual artist like you Aletha, it would have made it much easier to make the pictures (I could have drawn them – some people do draw them by hand). I find writing To Do lists and that sort of thing calming to the mind as well – gives me the appearance of orderliness – haha.

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