Kids with autism love predictability. They thrive on knowing what is coming up next. They find security in knowing what to expect.
Establishing a routine is one way to help your youngster have a smooth day. When you follow one day in and day out they know what to do and where to be. It creates a rhythm for their day.
Another component of a smooth routine is a visual schedule. Having a visual aid greatly helps reinforce the order of activities. In today’s post, I will go over how to successfully follow routines with a visual schedule.
What Is A Visual Schedule
Kids on the autism spectrum don’t always pick up on social cues or verbal and non-verbal communication. Visuals are a great tool to better help communicate messages and how to complete activities.
I use visual schedules in my therapy sessions with great success. It helps create a flow and purpose to the hour and my clients find comfort in knowing what they will be doing when they enter the office.
So what is a visual schedule?
Essentially a visual schedule is a list of written activities with pictures that correspond with each activity. The pictures serve as a quick reference for children to see what the activity will look like.
The words on the schedule structure the day or activity, pictures illustrate predictability.
Visual schedules can be used to list out the order of events for an entire day or can be used to break down a task into smaller steps.
How To Make A Visual Schedule
I usually structure my visual schedules with writing out the words in numerical order on the left and put the pictures across from the words on the right.
Clipart or something similar has a great library of pictures to choose from.
There are several ways to make a visual schedule.
For routines that occur daily, you can make a more permanent visual schedule by typing it up, pasting the pictures on the document, and printing it off.
For infrequent or spontaneous activities you can either hand write and draw little pictures. Or you can keep an envelope of printed clipart pictures and tape those to a schedule. The pictures can be reused.
Different Types of Schedules
Schedules are a great tool to reinforce the activities of the day or to break tasks down into smaller steps. You can make a schedule for either type of situation.
For a daily schedule you can list out the general events:
- Eat breakfast
- Get dressed
- Go to school
If schedules differ from day to day you can also create one for each day of the week.
Visual schedules can also be used to break tasks down into smaller steps or teach a new skill.
To use eating breakfast as an example:
- Get out bowl and spoon
- Pick out cereal from the pantry
- Open cereal box
- Pour cereal into a bowl
- Pour milk into the bowl
- Eat breakfast
How To Use A Visual Schedule
To make sure your child is successfully following routines with a visual schedule you need to make sure the schedules are in areas that your child will see them.
Here are some tips to help you and your child use a visual schedule.
- Hang up the daily schedule in an easily accessible area for your child. The refrigerator, bulletin board, front door are some examples. Make sure it is at child’s eye level.
- Put schedules for specific tasks in the area that the task occurs in. Tape up bathroom related activities on the bathroom mirror. Attach getting ready to leave the house routine to the back door and so on.
- Make schedules portable. Clipboards are a great way to bring a visual schedule along as you move throughout your day. If you’re on the go you can use a smaller piece of paper that can easily slip into a pocket or purse.
- Visual schedules can be interchangeable. Tack a piece of velcro on a dry erase board along with frequently used cut out pictures. If a routine needs to be changed you can swap out words and pictures as needed.
Successfully following routines using a visual schedule is a great tool to have and will help the day go much smoother for you and your child.
Elizabeth Purpero is a licensed school counselor and licensed professional counselor-in-training. She has her master’s in counseling psychology. Elizabeth has worked as an autism therapist with children and teens. During her career, she has worked in intensive at-home therapy programs utilizing ABA and play therapy along with OT and speech therapy techniques. She has also worked as a mental health therapist helping clients address their mental health issues as it relates to autism. Elizabeth’s background working with the autism community has greatly helped her work with students in schools too. She has helped teachers implement effective strategies, create goals for IEP’s and make classrooms more sensory-friendly. Mark Twain once said, “Write what you know about,” and Elizabeth enjoys writing about autism-related topics and providing additional resources to help those impacted by autism.