The Importance of Visual Schedules for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"My 4-year-old (high functioning autistic) son has trouble moving from task to task. How can I help him finish a particular activity (like putting his legos back in the boxes), and then get him to move on to the next thing (like getting ready for bed) without creating anxiety and the resultant meltdowns?"

Children with ASD level 1 or High-Functioning Autism thrive on routine and structure. As your son begins to recognize structure in his life, this may be the time to make a visual schedule to help him recognize when certain events are happening in his day.

A visual schedule works better than a written schedule for obvious reasons, as your child may not be able to read and thus may not get the benefit of the visual cue.

To make such a visual schedule, you can use a white board on which you put the hours of the day and a space at the top for the day of the week. Purchase strips of Velcro that have a sticky back and place a small square of Velcro in each time slot.

Using thick card, draw the different aspects of the day in visual form (e.g.,  draw pictures of food for the times of the day that you eat; draw a picture of a bed for the times your child sleeps).

Each day, pin up the pictorial representation of your day and put the day of the week at the top. When your child wakes up, bring him to the board and talk about when different things will happen. When it comes time for the various events in the day, have the child tear off the pictorial representation and talk about what it is you’re going to be doing. Put the pictorial representation in a nearby box for the next day.

This technique will help your son appreciate structure in his day. It leaves no question as to what will happen and it involves, in a way, the completion of tasks (something autistic children like to do).

By using Velcro squares, you can alter the schedule every day for things like shopping and doctor’s visits. Each day can look the way it’s supposed to on the board and will give your son a lesser degree of confusion about the things that he will be doing that day.


•    Anonymous said... Visuals with rewards for automated clearing up. Comments like I see Lego on the floor honey,,, rather than nagging works too
•    Anonymous said... Visual timers work well, telling him how long he has to do an activity and giving a 5 min warning before time is up. Sue Larkey has a clock that you have a red screen that goes over the minutes so very easy to see and these have worked well with both my boys from everyday tasks of eating breakfast, to computer time to they were using it at school so my eldest could see how long he had to complete a task.
•    Anonymous said... Visual schedules work great for our son
•    Anonymous said... Picture charts of what you are doing today, let him cross off the ones he's completed and go on to the next. They worked for me
•    Anonymous said... my son (5 yr old) & I went through PCIT (parent child interactive therapy) AND; it taught us both a great deal on matters such as this! Two things have worked well for us: 1) before he starts an activity, I tell him he has 10 min. for this activity, then we'll begin the next one (tell him what the next activity is, that's called "labled activity"). Also, before he begins, tell him before time is up, you'll start the countdown from 3 min.: 3 min., 2 min., then 1 min. (you will have to verbally call out "2 more min.", etc.) This lets him know that time is depleting & he will mentally prepare himself for the end of 1 task, and the beginning of another!! 2) Make sure you reassure him that he can participate in that task again (tomorrow, or whenever) so he doesn't get overwhelmed thinking he'll never get to do that activity again. Most Aspie's take things literally (as a matter of fact). If you tell him he can't play with that toy, he'll believe it's "never play with it, instead of can't play with it right now". Lastly, before beginning an activity, explain to him that "we have to put our activity away when we're finished". The explanation I give is "if we don't put our things/toys in their box/cubby, then the pieces willl get lost & we have to keep all the pieces together because they're a family unit!" This usually helps him understand! I hope this helps with your son!! Good luck.
•    Anonymous said... My son used check lists. Or popsicle sticks work really well... Color/picture coded for each task so when completed they are matched up with the 'to-do' list .
•    Anonymous said... Keep him on a strict schedule and reward him with praise when he completes his assigned task. At bedtime, have him pick out a favorite book and read it to him til he drifts off to sleep or have him listen to books read on CDs. Dramatic actors read volunteer to read these books through the reading for the blind. You can join for free and disabilities count. You only have to show some impairment. That's what I did with my son and it worked most of the time. Although he also slept with a security blankie :)
•    Anonymous said... I tell him at the beginning of the task what his reward will be. I come and sit there redirecting if its a challenge for him. If its a big mess or a lot of homework I split it up into 3 things. ex: First clean up legos, then books, then clothes. Then icecream!!!
•    Anonymous said... Repetition is key with anything in my experience ,I find out what works and don't change it until it doesn't work anymore :)
•    Anonymous said... AS kids love the same routine, get them into the habit and keep it going no matter what, and offer rewards for doing a good job. Consistency and praise... And who doesn't react well to that?! ;)
•    Anonymous said... At 8 we still have this problem.We use a schedule/check list at home and in school.
•    Anonymous said... My son is 11 and I still have a problem with transitions. I give him a count down warning. My son doesn't like to be overly praised so I don't make a big deal but I let him know I'm proud of him. My son also has OCD so when he does clean up they have to perfect or he has a melt down.

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