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Why & How to Use Visual Schedules

Young Girl using Laptop, check boxes in upper right corner
Imagine having a resource at your fingertips that could help improve your child’s behavior, attention, listening skills, and communication skills.

Luckily, there is a tool that can potentially help your child in all of these ways and more: a visual schedule.

Visual schedules are customized pictures that represent a sequence of activities or tasks a child is expected to complete.
This visual aid is essentially a “roadmap” for a child to refer to during moments of their daily life. It provides a child with a visual representation of what he or she can expect during a specific task or series of activities.
My Morning Routine
Children often have little control over what’s happening in their environment and are still developing a sense of time. That’s where visual schedules come in.

What is a Visual Schedule?

A visual schedule is a series of pictures used to represent ordered tasks or steps within an activity. It can be made up of any number of steps – from just a few to several detailed steps.
The schedule may visually track each item as it’s been completed. There could be checkboxes next to each item. Or, each picture might have velcro that allows it to be moved as the activity it represents is happening.

Here are some examples of activities that are great opportunities for visual schedules.

Getting Ready for Bed

  1. Take a bath.
  2. Put on pajamas.
  3. Read a story.
  4. Brush teeth.
  5. Get into bed and sing songs with mom and dad.
  6. Go to sleep.

Morning Routine

My Morning Routine Visual Schedule

Brushing Teeth

  1. Get my toothbrush & toothpaste.
  2. Put toothpaste on my toothbrush.
  3. Brush teeth for 2 minutes.
  4. Rinse.
Teeth Brushing Visual Schedule

My Day

  1. Go to school.
  2. Play at the park.
  3. Visit grandma.
  4. Come home.

Where Can Visual Schedules Be Used?

Visual schedules can be used throughout a child’s environment. For example, a visual schedule of brushing teeth might be placed on the mirror in the bathroom.
Displaying a visual schedule around the house, such as the child’s bedroom or on the refrigerator, can help remind them of what to expect throughout the day.
Teachers often post visual schedules around a classroom. This can help children attend to a certain task. It can give a child a sense of calmness and understanding as they see what will happen and when.
Daily Schedule
Visual schedules are sometimes used to illustrate behavior expectations. This includes showing what consequences will come from following these expectations or not.

Who Can Benefit

Visual schedules are often used in children with Autism, however, they can also benefit a range of children including those with:
  • Expressive language delays
  • Receptive language delays (difficulty understanding concepts or following verbal directions)
  • Anxiety
  • Sensory processing difficulties
  • Difficulty transitioning between places or activities
  • ADD or ADHD
…And more.
Even typically developing children of all ages can benefit from using a visual schedule.

Why are Visual Schedules Effective?

Visual schedules can be used as effective tools to help in ways like these:
1. Increasing Predictability. Children often thrive off of predictability and structure, especially those with speech and language difficulties.

Visual schedules can improve a child’s behavior by providing a sense of calmness. Using them can ease anxiety associated with an unknown, changing daily schedule.

2. Enhancing Communication. Being able to look at a visual representation as instructions and concepts are spoken can support a child’s growing language skills.

One research study showed that toddlers were more likely to learn words when language stimulating activities were embedded within predictable events.

3. Improving Attention. A visual schedule can help a child attend to and focus on a certain activity. It provides predictability, which has been suggested to enhance attention. A visual schedule can even be customized by using motivating pictures or photographs.

How to Create & Use a Visual Schedules

Ready to start using visual schedules with your child? Here’s how to do it.

1. Assess your child’s needs. What’s a task, activity, or time of day that seems to be challenging for your child?
2. Choose your method of display. You can create a visual schedule digitally or on paper. You can use an app, or create a document on your computer using photographs or downloaded images. If you’re in a pinch, you can even draw a visual schedule.

Visual Daily Schedule App

3. Give an introduction & explanation. Show the child the visual schedule before it’s being used. Explain what it’s for and how it works. Answer any questions your child might have about using the visual schedule. This can provide them with a sense of independence in completing tasks.
4. Stay consistent. Refer to the visual schedule consistently during the activity or time of day it refers to. The more a child is exposed to it, the more familiar he or she will be with what the steps represent. They’ll also better learn the meaning of the words that accompany it.
5. Monitor & modify as needed. Monitor the child’s response to using the visual schedule. Does it appear to help him or her? If the child seems to be overwhelmed or have difficulty attending to the schedule, there could be too many steps. Be prepared to modify the schedule in ways like including less steps or changing the pictures.

Additional Resources

A visual schedule is a valuable tool that can be used with any child, during any daily activity. Because of its benefits like improving communication skills and attention, visual schedules can be particularly helpful for children with sensory needs, Autism, or speech and language delays.

The speech-language pathologists at TherapyWorks are experienced in using visual schedules to improve a child’s behavior, attention, and communication skills. TherapyWorks offers speech therapy, occupational, physical therapy and ABA. If you would like to learn more, or discuss your child’s specific needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to TherapyWorks!

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