We are often called out to consult in classrooms to help with “problem children”. Most of those visits confirm that the child, is in fact, having difficulties in the classroom. Sadly, many staff in those settings view the child as the problem rather than recognizing that the child is merely responding to his environment. As teachers, we often forget that children with disabilities, including autism, need ongoing support to be successful. We often try a strategy for a few days and then over time the strategy slowly slips off our instructional radar. This is especially true for a support strategy such as visual schedules.
Similarly, we are frequently called by families who need our help with tantrums and other difficulties in the home. Many times, families do not have any strategies to use in the home. Often, we meet families who have never seen a visual schedule, let alone know what to do with one.
A visual schedule (also known as visual supports and picture schedules) is a task list with pictures. For example, this picture shows the “task list” for a child’s morning. First, he must put away his backpack. Then he participates in circle time. Then he has math followed by snack and toileting. Finally, it is time for reading.
Just as task lists help us remember all that we need to do in a day, visual schedules help children remember what they need to do each day. Visual schedules also help children predict their day. When children anticipate activities, they are less likely to engage in challenging behaviors around those activities.
Visual schedules may be used to show a morning routine such as the one just described. Visual schedules may also be used to show
steps of a routine such as hand washing, toileting, or getting dressed. Visual schedules are a great support for individuals who are learning a new job such as putting together a packing list.
Many resources exist to help you make visual schedules. One of our favorites is an application for the iPad called iPrompts. The photo library in iPrompts is not nearly as inclusive or as high quality as the one in Proloquo2go. However, you may add as many pictures from your personal library in to the iPrompts library.
Another excellent resource is Meyer-Johnson. We have used their product, Boardmaker, for many years. While it is somewhat cost prohibitive, you will find the software to be extremely useful. Using Boardmaker, we have made countless picture schedules, communication icons, choice boards. We work with a parent who uses the software to make many instructional materials for her child. You will need some training and practice to become proficient with this software. However, once you learn to use it, your options are unlimited.
Finally, Do2Learn is another excellent source of support for making visual schedules. You will find their website helpful with pictures, schedules and other tools.
We recommend the use of visual schedules for children with and without disabilities. Children need to understand and predict the activities within their day. Visual supports will help them. Visual supports are another excellent way to support the beginning stages of reading as well.
Do you use visual schedules? Do you find them helpful for your child? What resources have you found helpful?