Parenting Child Psychology and Behaviour Special Needs

How Visual Schedules Aid Children with Autism?

Deepti Deshpande
7 to 11 years

Created by Deepti Deshpande
Updated on Sep 19, 2019

How Visual Schedules Aid Children with Autism

Most of the kids on the autism spectrum are visual learners which, put in simple terms means that they learn by seeing rather than through spoken instructions or reading text. Visual aids help the child to understand things better and remember them long term. These aids can be in the form of pictures, images, and videos.

Since many children on the spectrum find it difficult to follow or remember the order of activities to be done in a day, or activities that pertain to a specific situation, it can cause them anxiety and distress. A simple yet powerful tool that can address this issue is a ‘Visual Schedule’. It is a pictorial representation of a time table or a list of activities to be done in a day.

How Do Visual Schedule Help?

Samruddhi, an autism interventionist, and mother to 10-year-old Shaurya has been using visual schedule since the time he was 2.5 yrs old to help him perform his daily activities in a structured and independent manner. She kept modifying the schedule as per his age-appropriate requirements. 

As Shaurya had limited speech in the beginning, Samruddhi found that using picture cards helped Shaurya communicate better and also improved his focus. She then incorporated these cards in the form of a structured routine at home. The picture cards had velcro stuck behind the so that the routine could be modified as per the requirement of another day like a weekend etc.

For instance, in the above picture, the schedule is divided into four main parts, each of which includes different activities. The schedule can be modified as per the requirements of the routine that a child needs to follow. To help Shaurya cope with the academic routine, Samruddhi also involved his school teachers in making a similar schedule. This helped in providing a clear indication about the various periods during the day including breaks and closure.

Activities Where Visual Schedules Can Be Helpful

Visual schedules can be used for a range of activities that require a sequence as well as for activities that can be broken down into specific steps. For instance, 

  • Getting ready for school

  • Taking a bus/ train/ flight

  • Visit a doctor

  • Paying a visit to an acquaintance 

  • Going to a supermarket

How Visual Schedules Work?

In a child with autism spectrum, visual schedules work in multiple ways. Read here

  • Building Independent Skills – they help in making a child independent in routines that are consistent to be implemented daily like getting ready for school. When a child looks at the visual schedule he knows which is the first activity followed by the next activity. As he follows the sequence of activities, gradually he gets accustomed to the routine and learns to get ready for school with less or no prompts from the parent. 

  • Providing A Sense of Purpose – Performing an activity end to end also instills the child with a sense of purpose as well as the confidence to fulfill the same. 

  • Bringing Predictability – Since many children feel the need for structure and safety, changes in their routine or a new event can be an overwhelming experience. Visual schedules fulfill this need by creating predictable outcomes for their daily activities.

  • Reducing Anxiety – Kids on the spectrum can be oversensitive to certain stimuli like bright lights, sounds or anxious in public or social settings like supermarkets, restaurants, and crowds. A visual schedule allows the child to be prepared in advance of the upcoming event or activity.  It also lends a greater degree of certainty and control that prevents stress and keeps them calm.

For instance, a visit to the doctor can be converted into a visual schedule in the following manner...

  1. Getting dressed

  2. Taking a bus

  3. Reaching the clinic

  4. Waiting for your turn

  5. Entering the doctor’s cabin

  6. Greeting the doctor

  7. Allowing the doctor to examine you

  8. Bidding goodbye to the doctor

  9. Taking a bus back home

Gradually, in situations where the child is less anxious, one can try and introduce dynamic situations to develop adaptability and spontaneity in the child. Doing this can help  in making transitions easier.

Use of Tokens

When you want to build a certain capacity in your autistic child to function independently while doing these activities, the use of tokens can act as positive reinforcement and motivate them to complete the activities/tasks. The tokens can be in the form of smilies (refer: image), or any other sticker like stars, points, favorite superhero character, etc. Each completed task on the schedule earns the child a token. All the tokens at the end of the day can be redeemed for any favorite treat or activity that the child likes.

How to Make a Visual Schedule?

Usually, visual schedules are prepared with pictures and or the word/ short sentence explaining the objective. The cards can be laminated for better maintainability and can have a velcro behind them so that they can be used as per the requirement of the situation. A few key points to remember...

  • Use clear and concise pictures to depict the activity with a brief description for each

  • Put the schedule on the wall or a place which is easy to notice

  • Let the child take his time to go through it and process what he is seeing

  • Appreciate the child on completion of the task/activity

  • Use tokens to motivate your child to retain his focus on completing all tasks.

One can even make a cost-effective schedule at home using a notebook and pen, and drawing or writing the schedule with your child. This also allows for a greater degree of involvement of the child in understanding the sequence of activities to be followed.

 

As a child grows older, the visual schedule can be gradually refined in the form of a checklist depending on his comfort level. This also helps him in developing planning and organizational skills in the future as an adult. 

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| Sep 20, 2019

very nice information

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| Sep 19, 2019

very useful blog! thanks for sharing!

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