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