Q&A Section – How do I make activity schedules on iPads?

This is the question of the month as featured in Issue Number 11

Q&A: Activity Schedules

Question: Should I do paper schedules or iPad activity schedules?

Answer: Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is an effective way to systematically teach skills to individuals with autism and reduce their problematic behaviors (Jensen & Sinclair, 2002). But ABA methods are paper-based, and this has several important disadvantages that can be eliminated with the use of iPads:

  1. Heavy burden on parents and teachers of preparing large amounts of materials (collecting, printing, laminating pictures; preparing multiple folders for different activities)
  2. Difficulty of effectively teaching dynamic concepts such as verbs on paper
  3. Lack of adequate variety in paper-based content, which makes children over-learn the concepts from their available exemplars, get bored, or have difficulties in generalizing (Venkatesh et al., 2012).

ipads Activites Scheduling

Moreover, these bulky folders are hard to carry around when families take their children out to restaurants, movies, or shopping. These activity schedules are not only a physical burden, but they may also be a psychological burden. These folders may cause children to stand out and get unwanted attention from the public, making them feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. Instead of helping, this may exacerbate their social problems. These limitations can be overcome with the use of iPads. The well-structured system of ABA allows it to be delivered through iPads.

Question: How do I know that my child has the prerequisite skills to use activity schedules?

Answer: Before you start preparing your child’s activity schedule, go over the checklist below to see if your child is ready to follow an activity schedule. Your child:

  • Can differentiate pictures from the background
  • Can match identical objects
  • Can associate the picture with the corresponding real object
  • Allows manual guidance

If your child is lacking in any of these skills, it can be taught with an iPad, and detailed information about the teaching steps can be found in the full guide.

Question: Where do I begin, when it comes to making activity schedules on iPads?

Answer: These are the fundamental steps of teaching a skill to your child using principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis. Following these steps will help you when teaching any skill to your child.

  • Determine the target skill
  • Break down the skill into simple steps
  • Ask the child to perform the intended skill
  • If child doesn’t perform what is asked, direct her to the correct response using prompts
  • If correct response is not given, manually guide the child to perform the correct response and try to prevent the child from engaging in an incorrect response
  • Reinforce (give a reward) immediately after the correct response
  • Repeat these steps
  • Fade the prompts and lessen the reinforcements as the child performs better, start giving reinforcements for the correct completion of more complex behaviors

Preparing an Activity Schedule on the iPad

Selecting activities for the first activity schedule

For your child’s first activity schedule, experts (Higbee & Reagon, 2005; McClannahan & Krantz, 2010) recommend that you:

  •  Use familiar activities
  • Make the schedule short (4-5 activities)
  • Choose activities that have clear beginning and ending times (e.g. a puzzle is finished when all the pieces are in the correct place)
  • Put at least one social interaction activity
  • End the schedule with a snack or a game your child likes – do not make this snack or game available at other times, save it for when your child follows his activity schedule

Let’s say you chose the following activities: puzzle, coloring, picture book, requesting a toss in the air, favorite snack.

Other activities to choose from: color matching, music or books on tape, stacking cups, going over the lines in a notebook, aligning letters and numbers on a magnetic surface, requesting to be tickled, and playing with Legos.

Application suggestion: Princess Pea. It is a storybook that the child can read by herself or listen to it be narrated. The text can be turned on and off. At any point during the game, one can click on the upper right corner to play games about the story such as painting, puzzle, counting, and memory match. The level of the games and the story are appropriate for children with autism.

Question: Where can I learn more about Activity Schedules for the iPad?

Answer: Autism Parenting Magazine recommends the guide created by Ceymi Doenyas. Because the guide is very thorough, we cannot publish all of it in this magazine. The full article can be accessed at this link: http://en.tohumotizm.org.tr/haber/caregivers%25E2%2580%2599-guide-activity-schedules-ipads-children-autism.

The guide explains step by step: a) how to create an activity schedule on an iPad, from which application to use, to taking and placing the pictures; b) how to teach your child to follow this activity schedule; c) how to reward your child; and d) how you can track your child’s performance and notice when you need to make a new activity schedule. Finally, it talks about about the subsequent steps after your child masters the first activity schedule.

This guide is a combination of the existing autism literature on activity schedules and Applied Behavioral Analysis, and the author’s observations and experiences in Tohum School of creating activity schedules for many children with autism and teaching them how to follow it. This guide is very long because the author did not want to leave anything to the assumption of the reader; she clarified every part where someone might have a question and where she observed there to be problems in the actual execution of the steps in Tohum School. She hopes that the readers will have a chance to look over her guide and will find it helpful. If you would like to learn more about the current literature that she benefited from, you can find their references at the end of the guide. If you have any questions, please contact her from ceymidoenyas@gmail.com. She would love to help you to the best of her capacity.

Q&A Issue 1

Figure 1: Yağız following his paper-based activity schedule

Q&A Issue1 A

Figure 2:  Yağız’s twin brother Emre following his activity schedule on iPad


    Ceymi Doenyas

    Ceymi Doenyas, is a Princeton University graduate from the departments of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Near Eastern Studies. She has been working for and with individuals with autism for 8 years. In highschool, she has volunteered at Tohum Foundation for Early Diagnosis and Education of Autism in Istanbul, Turkey. She helped translate the educational curriculum of Princeton Child Development Institute into Turkish so that Tohum, a dissemination school of PCDI, could open its first school for individuals with autism in Turkey. In college, she has volunteered at the Eden Institute and took its students to fun after-school activities like bowling and Pump-it-up. As part of the Fashion Speaks team in Princeton University, she helped organize and run events to raise money for Autism Speaks and the Eden Institute. This year, as a Princeton University Reach Out 56-81-06 fellow, she worked with Tohum School to bring to Turkey the iPad technology in the education of individuals with autism and donated iPads to the school. She is also working on developing Turkish iPad applications geared towards the needs of the students in this school.