Visual Schedules

If your family is like most there are certain times or activities each day where your child might have some difficulty for example trying to do home-schooling during lockdown when you might be juggling work as well as younger children. Or, maybe your child struggles with more specific times such as bed time and going to sleep at night.

Creating a visual schedule is a really effective prevention strategy not only to reduce challenging behaviour but they can be used to help maintain your child’s attention to task (especially if they can see something fun is coming up next!) and expand their leisure skills (remind them what else they can do to avoid a tonne of screen time).

In a nutshell visual schedules can be used to increase predictability of daily routines, to decrease problematic behaviour associated with task avoidance and increase independence.

When creating a visual schedule the timings of certain demands/tasks are important to consider. For example its way more likely your child will respond better to their school work in the morning rather than late afternoons towards dinnertime. Additionally, using fun activities to reward completion of less desired activities is also very effective. By organising your child’s schedules so that enjoyable activities come after the successful completion of less fun activities may promote better compliance. These sorts of routines can also help you manage your time e.g. if there are times in your day when you know you have a work call or need to cook dinner schedule activities that can keep your child occupied on their own to give you the space that you need.

Visual schedules benefit children who have autism as often they have difficulty with transitions and unexpected changes in their routine. One way to help children with ASD manage their daily schedule or cope with unexpected changes in the routine is to use a visual schedule. The visual schedule helps establish the usual routine but also allows you to inform your child of an upcoming change. It can also take the onus off the parent always placing demands on the child – as in, ‘the schedule says….’ Rather than ‘I’m telling you to….’

You can make a visual schedule by either writing out a list of activities (if your child can read) with little tick boxes next to each item or drawing / printing off small pictures of the activities.

Here are some steps which you can use to teach your child how to use official schedule;

  1. Place the schedule in a central place in your home.
  2. Encourage your child to check the schedule.
  3. Review the schedule with your child and select the first picture.
  4. Encourage your child to state the activity out loud. If your child is pre-verbal then you can say it for them.
  5. Have your child either point to the picture or if you’ve made one where the child can pull the picture off the schedule then prompt them to do that and take it with them to do the specific activity.
  6. Your child is to complete the activity that’s on the picture or checklist.
  7. When your child has completed the activity return to the visual schedule.
  8. For some children it can be helpful to have a small box or envelope next to the schedule where your child puts the picture of each completed task.
  9. They can then move onto the next picture on the visual schedule and continue.

You’ll need to decide what format makes the most sense for your child. You can make the introduction of the visual schedule a fun activity by getting your child involved and having them decorate or colour it in. Remember to consider timings of the day when you are scheduling each activity and try to embed fun activities that you know your child will enjoy to maintain their motivation and ‘buy in’.

If visual schedules are new to your child you might just start with a few pictures and then gradually increase the number of tasks overtime. Visual schedules are also really handy if you have a child who seems to be stuck in a rut in terms of spending too much time on a screen during their free time. Consider using a visual schedule in this case to act like a sort of menu reminding your child of all of the toys and activities they have access to. For example, first play with Lego, then do a puzzle, then do colouring in and then screen time.

Here are ideas of what you can use visual schedules for:

  1. School schedule (morning routine, reading, break, speech, math, lunch, playtime, bathroom, computer)
  2. Independent work
  3. Play schedule
  4. Chores
  5. Self-Care

And here are some examples of play / leisure activities that you could make into a schedule:

  1. Puzzles
  2. Shape sorter
  3. Lego’s
  4. Marble run
  5. Mazes
  6. Computer games
  7. Video games
  8. Mr. Potato Head
  9. Colouring/drawing
  10. Dot to dot
  11. Books
  12. Peg boards
  13. Dolls/action figures
  14. Bike riding
  15. Trampoline
  16. Exercise
  17. Play dough
  18. Basketball
  19. Trains
  20. video games
  21. Workbook pages


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