The Effectiveness of Visual Schedules for Kids with Autism

Effectiveness of Visual Scheduling for Kids with ASDEveryday 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.

Special Offer

Don't miss out on our special offer.
Click here to find out more

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.

Visual Schedules

Eat Lunch

   Visual Schedules

             Do Craft


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:,,,

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.

Visual Schedules

I like the Make A Schedule Program from 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

Leslie Burby

Leslie Burby

Leslie Burby is a former Editor of Autism Parenting Magazine and a public speaker on autism related issues. She is the author of three autism related books: Emotional Mastery for Adult's with Autism (2013); Early Signs of Autism in Toddlers, Infants and Babies (2014); and the children's book Grace Figures Out School (2014).

  • Avatar Sandi says:

    Not just for kids!

    I have been using a picture frame and what I call “cue cards.” The cue cards are adjustable because, as has been pointed out, things change. I started using these when I was about 35 because it took me that many years to realise that if I can’t see what I’m supposed to do that day (or that week) I won’t remember. Mind you, I didn’t know that I was autistic until 14 years after that.

    Until I read this article, I didn’t even realise that what I did with the picture frame was related to being autistic—I am still learning, you see. I jam the cue cards in the edge of the frame and take them down and put them in their bin when I get the thing done. I have things like: BANK, BLOCK, SALT. BANK means to go take money out or put money in. BLOCK means to go to the butcher’s for something (and there will be an additional card up for what I’m supposed to get). SALT means to check the salt level in the softener and add if necessary. I haven’t counted the number of cards there are. I know that I’ve chucked the one called CRACKERS because I don’t make them anymore.

    Oh, and the “cards” are really just pieces of paper all the same size. Sometimes, I have so many things to do that I wedge them around the outside of the frame, too. The picture frame hangs in the kitchen above the cereal canister and I see it every day. There have been a couple of days over the last 7 years (since moving to this house with the picture frame in it) where there hasn’t been and chores.

  • Avatar Allison says:

    OOOH I love this article!!! They do a visual schedule with my daughter at school but I have been beyond intimidated to make one at home, because the one at school is pretty fancy, and I felt I didn’t know where to start! Thank you for writing this, not only is it well written, but it has completely removed my fears, and I am looking forward to starting our daughters visual schedule…TODAY!!! THANk you Thank You Thank You!!!!

  • Avatar Kelly says:

    Visual schedules are usually about autism and classrooms, but they reach so much further. Grown ups run around with agenda’s and to do lists and calendars and we don’t know what we are doing until we check it. Just b/c there are no pictures doesn’t mean the concept is really any different. Kids of all types thrive on visual schedules for reasons of communication, knowledge, comprehension, time, sequence, cognitive clarity, anxiety reduction, knowing “what’s next”…so much! But with the word “schedule” in there, so many parents get the impression of an overly structured environment and think you have to know what’s happening everyday all day at what time. I personally find visual schedules more about sequencing than anything. visually communicating to a child what is next, what is later, and through pictures it explains that activities have an end to them (an important one for kids who like to throw tantrums at transition time). It prepares them for the end. Anyway, I set out to create a visual schedule that allowed for easy changes, no Velcro spots, durability, and portability. When I initially set up a bunch velco spots (let’s say 6 in a line) and there was no 6th item that morning, my daughter got focused on what was missing. So I decided to go with magnetic so that everytime you set up a schedule it’s a clean slate. My website is We answer the call for parents of all kinds of kids who want to use a visual schedule at home but don’t have the time or desire to make one and don’t want to buy a large expensive one designed for classrooms. Please visit our website and feel free to share us.

  • Avatar Sharada Subbaraman says:

    Thank for the clarity in presenting about visual schedules for children with autism. I have been using visual schedules for my son. Though he is verbal I have found visual communication (pictures & written instructions) very useful to make remain focussed in the task at hand & make him more organised.

  • Avatar Jane says:

    Great article, thanks, very helpful! We find the Monkey&Chops Daily Routine Chart is engaging and the visual prompts assist with the transition to the next task. Check out

  • Avatar Alison Laverty says:

    Our three year old’s psychologist recently suggested trying a visual schedule for her and it is one of the best things we have. She will now change her clothes in the morning because it is on the chart. It doesn’t always work but it definitely helps especially if we have something different happening. Recently she needed to go to hospital and it helped her know what was coming. I have added a number of photos into the group of dots to be relevant for us. The chart I used was from

  • Avatar carmen says:

    good article. it made sense today when any other time the task seemed overwhelming. visual schedules do make a difference especially the first then ones. its trying to find the right pecs I find confusing.if I find them confusing would my children too?

  • >