Using Visual Schedules For Children With Autism

Most of us prefer our lives as predictable as possible. If you had no idea what was happening from one moment to the next, you’d probably feel frustrated and confused. For a child with a developmental disability, such as autism, this type of unpredictability can be even more upsetting. Low frustration tolerance, lagging communication skills, and thriving on structured routines means children with autism need a clear picture of what they can expect, and a visual schedule is a perfect tool to accomplish just that!

My son is 4 1/2 years old, and to say he thrives on routines is an understatement! Even the route in which I drive him to school is important. And although we work in therapy and at home on helping him build adaptive skills, we also need to get him from point A to point B with as little resistance as possible.

Bedtime Routine Visual Schedule

One way we have begun to do this is by using visual schedules for some of his routines. For example, a few months ago, getting him to sleep at night was challenging. He started to drag out storytime by requesting one more book. Then he’d attempt to delay us leaving his room asking for more bedtime toys or one more kiss.

To streamline his bedtime routine, I made a visual schedule of each step, and he puts a velcro checkmark on each as we complete it. On the schedule for storytime, I put Read 1 Story. The very first time we used the schedule with him, he didn’t ask for a second story! I was shocked to see how easily it worked. It was as if seeing that number one on the schedule gave him a rule, and for him, that meant there were no other options.

Shower Routine Visual Schedule

As he had done with his bedtime routine, his shower routine was beginning to become excessive. He was hauling half of his toys into the shower, including ones that probably shouldn’t get wet. He also wanted to shower for over half an hour and was not very compliant when asked to get out.

So I did the same thing. I created a visual schedule that had the steps I wanted him to take for his shower routine, such as 1 Basket of Shower Toys that he had to pull from a larger basket of mom-approved shower toys. And Shower for 10 Minutes with me setting a timer. Instantly the tons of toys and lengthy showers stopped! The visual schedule is truly a miracle in our home.

How I Create Visual Schedules

Barclay's Evening Routine

Visual schedules are simple to make, and there are multiple online resources. I prefer to create my own, so they are very specific to what I want on them. I also number my son’s visual schedules. He loves to say which number we are on, and he likes to memorize which number goes with which step.

This visual schedule was made using a customizable template I found online. The checkmarks and clipart were also found online. I laminated both the schedule and the checkmarks and attached velcro dots to each. I then connected the checkmarks with packing tape so he can just flip them over when he has completed a step, and the checkmarks don’t get lost. Now for both his shower and bedtime routines, he’ll remind us, “Time for checks!”

In Closing

Visual schedules have truly been a game-changer in our home for ease of routines. If there are routines in your home that your child is struggling with, I highly encourage you to give using visual schedules a try! I am confident you won’t be disappointed!

If you’d like a free copy of the Microsoft Office template I use, click the link below!

Visual Schedule Template

Autism – it’s not a processing error. It is a different processing system. – Author Unknown

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Amy Nielsen lives in Orlando, Florida. She is the proud mother of four children ranging in age from 5-33! She and her husband, Brent enjoy sports and traveling. Amy is a former teacher with nearly 20 years of experience, a freelance writer, and a special needs advocate. Her mission is to help educate and empower families of children with disabilities to focus on their child's interests and strengths.

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