What is a Visual Schedule?

Children with autism or other language processing disorders may struggle with uncertainty around their routine or lack of understanding about what’s next. A great way to help children with this challenge is offering visual schedules. 

Visual schedules offer children a concrete representation of what is going to happen next. Children with autism may especially benefit from visual schedules so that they feel secure and prepared with what’s expected of them. Students of all ages want to do what is expected of them; however, they may struggle with the necessary language tools to understand verbal instructions. Visual schedules offer picture representations of what the expectations are. 

Many students may also struggle with the concept of time. In addition to a visual schedule about the sequence of an activity or the school day, visual timers may be useful. It may be difficult for a young student to grasp what “5 more minutes” means. A visual timer such as a sand timer or visual countdown clock may be helpful tools for children who struggle abstract concepts of passing time.

Visual schedules are excellent for helping students with autism or other learning differences gain independence. Children with autism may have difficulty with abrupt changes or unpredictability. Not understanding what happens next can cause extreme anxiety for these students. This anxiety can cause emotional dysregulation that causes seemingly unprovoked outbursts of “bad” behavior. To prevent these emotional outbursts and instill confidence in your students, offer visual schedules that help que the student through the flow of the school day. 

Tips for creating a visual schedule: 

  • Breakdown an activity into multiple steps.
  • Choose easy to read pictures, symbols, or drawings. 
  • Keep simple text phrases to help children learn to associate those words with the correct activity, but avoid complex languages and sentences that may overwhelm the student. 
  • Show students how to use the schedule by reading and pointing to the schedule. 
  • Use some sort of marker to indicate where the child currently is within the schedule as they progress through the activity. 
  • Start slow when introducing visual schedules for the first time so as not to overwhelm (2-3 tasks per schedule). Gradually allow the visual schedules to be more complex. 
  • Be consistent and follow through! If you’ve provided a schedule, do your best to stick to it so that the child feels secure. 

You can find great visual schedule templates on Teacher’s Pay Teachers.

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