Visual scheduling is a systematic technique that enhances learning and communication for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These types of visual support systems provide teachers and parents with the tools needed to help children reach development goals and achieve success in life.

What is a Visual Schedule?

A visual schedule is a graphic representation of scheduled tasks and activities. They are very useful for breaking down tasks that have multiple steps and ensuring that children follow rules and deadlines. Visual schedules reduce anxiety through providing consistency while also reducing resistance that comes with certain activities. Although most people associate visual schedules with pictures or photographs, events can be triggered through toys, objects and even word phrases. The visual schedule itself is a constant reminder to students where they should be, what they should be doing and when she should start and finish.

The Visual Schedule Process

In order to be effective, teachers and parents should first ensure that the child understands the concept of sequenced activities. Visual schedules are often taught through pictures, role play and first-then boards. Most educators prefer to mix preferred activities with non-preferred ones. Physical reminders are usually posted on walls, but they can also be portable through a binder or clipboard. Regardless of the locations, the child should be able to see the reminders in order to stay on track during the day. When it is time for a scheduled activity to occur, children are cued with a brief verbal reminder and if necessary, physically guided to the posted visual schedule.

Dealing with Challenging Behaviors

There will inevitably be resistance against maintaining the schedule. When challenging behaviors occur, teachers focus on completing the task at hand. If the difficult behaviors continue, teachers may rearrange the schedule with a preferred activity as the reward for task completion. For important tasks that will create challenges, teachers often give a visual schedule reminder during a preferred task. Praise and positive reinforcement for following the schedule, completing tasks and successfully transitioning to other activities is very helpful. Some teachers find it is helpful to use a timer to help children stay focused and transition to new tasks.

How Teachers Organize Visual Schedules

When it comes to visual schedules, teachers creatively use everything from color coding to school bell synchronization. In order to maximize effectiveness, teachers individually organize visual schedules based on the learner’s preferences and personality. Every morning, the teacher will arrange the student’s daily schedule and associated learning materials prior to the student’s arrival. This may require them to verify if objects are gathered in task baskets or in handy aprons that special education teachers wear. It may be appropriate to empower older students to control and enforce their own schedules. For developmentally delayed students, it may be appropriate to physical coach and guide the student through the entire process.

There are many reasons why visual schedules are popular and helpful. They provide structured predictability, which naturally decreases undesirable behaviors, and teach students abstract time and new language concepts. Visual schedules also increase communication, organizational skills and decision making skills.