The Effectiveness of Visual Schedules for Kids with Autism
Everyday tasks can prove to be a challenge with an autistic child because they need constant reminders. Transitioning from one task to another can cause anxiety or a meltdown to occur. However, social stories, visual schedules, and reminder strips can help alleviate the stress and anxiety associated with the everyday tasks that so many of us do with ease.
To many parents, hearing the word “schedule” can be overbearing. When it was first suggested that I create a picture/visual schedule for my autistic child, I thought that it wouldn’t be helpful. I mean, if my child is already so rigid with the order of things – wouldn’t creating a schedule make her even more dependent on everything being in order all the time? I came up with many excuses to avoid making the first picture chart. I found it intimidating to create charts and schedules, but at the same time I understood that no one could make the chart for us. Since every family has their own routine, it must be created for the individual. Of course, there are some tasks that need to be performed everyday such as waking up, going to the bathroom, getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, combing hair, and putting on shoes. However, on weekdays “putting on shoes” would be followed by “put on coat” and “get on the bus.” The problem is, my child wasn’t attending school every day of the week and was too young to understand the days of the week. So then I would have to deal with meltdowns when the weekend came or if there was a cancelation of school because of inclement weather.
How was I to make a schedule when things change?
Did I really need to plan every minute of every day?
What supplies do I need to start?
What is cost effective?
I learned a lot when making the charts and schedules, but in my case the most important guidelines to keep in mind while creating my child’s scheduling are:
1. Make more than one schedule.
You should have a “stay at home routine” and a “going to school routine.” After they go to sleep or before they wake in the morning hang up the appropriate chart. If you take vacations then make charts for them, too.
2. Make the time slots vague.
Some tasks need to be specific where others are better left vague. For instance, you can make one image for playtime, one for craft time, and one for TV time. This way it allows some room for adjustment.
Playtime can be out in your yard, at a park, at a friend’s house, the library, a children’s museum, or in your living room.
Craft time does not mean that you need to create an elaborate craft. It could be coloring in a coloring book, cutting pictures out of an old magazine on another day and a foam craft with glue dots a different day.
The same goes for the TV time slot, it doesn’t have to be the same show every day or the same length. I found it easier to be vague because if I was short on time and couldn’t allow an entire movie, I could always squeeze in a short 8 minute show like Pokoyo and the event was still completed. Check. Now, on to the next task.
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3. Just start.
You can always add more images as needed.
4. Events need to end.
When an event is done there should be a place to flip over the card or put it in an attached envelope. (Some people prefer using Velcro dots to make tearing off the card a sensory task, too.) This signals the child that one event is done and now it is time to move on to the next task.
5. Using “First, Then” charts are recommended before initiating an entire schedule.
A “First, Then Chart/Board” is used to get a child to do an essential task before doing a task that they prefer to do. First, eat your lunch. Then, you can play.
6. Use Visual Schedule Wall Charts
Decide if you want to use charts that are on the wall or Eye-Cons that are the size of luggage tags that are clipped together by a keychain so the child can carry it with them.
Creating your own picture schedules can be done by printing out pictures or downloading software if you aren’t artistically inclined or are just too busy. Some of my favorite sites for pictures (and sources used for this article) are: www.do2learn.com, www.kidaccess.com, http://CARD.ufl.edu, http://lessonpix.com/clipart.
If you have access to a laminator, I recommend laminating the pictures and the “board” that you will be using. The “board” can simply be a 9 by 12 sheet of paper or piece of cardstock that is laminated. Then, print and laminate a variety of pictures for your varied activities. Once the pictures are laminated you can stick Velcro strips (available at local craft stores or online) to the back of them. Don’t forget to staple or tape an envelope at the bottom of your board to store the pictures that are not in use.
I like the Make A Schedule Program from www.do2learn.com which: is easy to use, has tutorials for step by step instruction, is available to be converted into multiple languages, allows you to import your own images, create custom forms or use the ready-made forms, allows you to make 1” or 2” images, allows you to change the text under the image to suit your specific needs, allows you to make First & Then forms, you can save forms made, and so much more. In addition to Make A Schedule, Do2learn will be releasing View2do, which works on ipads, iphones, pcs, and macs.
According to Do2Learn, “It allows you to create a visual support and email it to someone who can open it on a remote touch device. The student can check completed items on a form or type into fields and email back to the teacher, who can access the student information to monitor progress. Templates let you start with premade forms or create custom ones using many editing features including colored borders, multiple languages, and imported images to supplement our thousands of custom ones. Libraries offer premade schedules, story strips and activities. Schedules and other forms can be securely shared between teachers using private school accounts.”
There are many apps out there to help with visual schedules, too. Click below for a list of apps and honest app reviews for visual timers/schedules provided by Shane Nurnberg at the following link http://www.autismepicenter.com/TEST/autism-apps.shtml.