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How Autism Visual Schedules
May Help Your Child


By Rachel Evans

Autism visual schedules are an important part of a structured environment for a child with autism spectrum disorder. This is because the visual schedule informs the child which activities will be occurring at a certain period of time, and in which order throughout the day that those activities will be occurring.

Visual schedules are beneficial for children on the autism spectrum as they:

- Help children who struggle with language comprehension to understand the expectations of them throughout the day.

- Focus on the challenge that many autistic children face with time organization and sequential memory.

- Help to minimize the anxiety levels of autistic children as structure is provided so that the children may organize and anticipate their daily and weekly activities, therefore reducing the possibility of behavioral symptoms. The use of pictorial schedules helps demonstrate the order of individual activities within a specific time frame. For example, it may demonstrate that lunchtime is coming, but work time comes first. Any changes to a schedule can also be illustrated through this tool.

- Help autistic children to transition independently among the various events and environments by instructing them where they will be headed next. Autism visual schedules can be applied to any event or place.

The format of the schedules is based on a strategy of “first-then”. An example of this approach is “First you wash your hands, then you eat your lunch”. This format demonstrates the expectation of what is to come first, and what is to follow. Each can be modified as required. Modifications are made in terms of the completion of each task, and the ability of the child to function with the provided details. It also includes the child’s ability to transition among tasks smoothly and with minimal interruption.

This is achieved through the format’s encouragement to move from one task to the next. That one thing comes first, and then another follows it.

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These types of schedules also help children with their social interactions as they can work social moments into their daily routines. For example, “first you arrive, then you greet your teacher and classmates”.

Parents and teachers are finding that the autism visual schedules also contribute to the child’s motivation level even when faced with less desirable tasks, as it shows that there will be a progression to a task that is more preferred later on.

When visual schedules are used, they must be taught directly to the children, and then used on a consistent basis. They aren’t crutches from which the children will gradually work their way free. They are tools that should be considered to be assistive technology on an ongoing level, and the longer the child uses this tool, the better it will help him or her function. This is true even beyond childhood and into adult life.

When developing a schedule, a set layout should be established and consistently applied. They should move either from left to right, or top to bottom. There should also be a method that allows the child to manipulate the schedule to indicate the completion of an activity; for example, allowing the child to cross off the activity with a dry erase marker. The schedule should present at least two items at any given time so that the child can begin to comprehend that events do not happen in isolation. They occur in sequence one after the other.

Autism visual schedules can be designed to fit the unique needs and understanding level of the child, and therefore provide a tailored experience for each person. Through symbols, images, the right number of activities per presentation, and consistency of use, this method can provide substantial support and understanding to an autistic child.

About the author - Rachel Evans. For information and to signup for a Free Newsletter about Autism please visit The Essential Guide to Autism