Why use visual schedules?

Why use visual schedules?

Does your child have challenges in following through a routine?

Do they have a meltdown when there is a change in the everyday schedule?

Do they have difficulty in performing morning or evening routines?

For many parents with kids diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it’s a constant battle to introduce novelty in a daily routine. We have a very powerful tool that can be used with our kids facing any kind of challenges with routines and that is The Visual Schedule.

Children with Autism respond well when they are given a fixed routine to follow and when they know what is expected through the day. They tend to not get anxious if they are aware of the events taking place through the day. And all of these problems are taken care of once you use a visual schedule.

First let us understand what is a visual schedule?
A visual schedule, also known as a visual structure, is a chart of all the events occurring through the day or a list of tasks that one has to perform, presented either through photos, drawings or through a written format.

It is generally made for those who have challenges in communication and language processing, however, it is widely used and not limited to only these challenges. They are used by parents, therapists, teachers, educators who are working with children diagnosed with Autism. They generally serve as a communication medium between the children and their caregivers. Although they are majorly used for children, it does not have to be limited to them, and can be used for adults with communication and language challenges as well.

Now that we know what a visual schedule is, let us understand why it is important to use it for everyday life.

  • As mentioned above, it helps children with language and communication challenges to understand the world better and to interact and communicate with their parents, caregivers, teachers, educators, etc. with much ease and clarity.
  • Helps kids understand expectations (through a visual representation) which would otherwise be presented in an instruction format.
  • Helps kids to express better about their wants and needs if language and verbalization is a challenge.
  • A visual schedule helps greatly with reducing anxiety and provides an additional buffer time to prepare one for the day.
  • It acts as a reminder for students and makes them independent in following through the assigned work, rather than relying on an adult.
  • Getting a child acquainted to a visual schedule helps reduce behaviors and struggles around following the routine, between the parent and the child.

There are many ways to use a visual schedule for children/adults with Autism-

1. First-Then Visual:For really young children, start with a ‘First and Then’ type of visual schedule. First-then is generally used to prepare the child with the 2 things to expect and it begins with pairing 2 tasks of the child’s choice. Once you see that the child understands the First-Then structure, you start with putting a non-preferred task under First and a preferred task under Then. We do this so that the child participates in the non-preferred task first as they are already looking up to participating in the preferred task coming up next. For example, First homework, Then car racing or First coloring, Then Legos, etc.



2. Visual Chart: Next we move on to a bigger visual schedule which highlights the routines of a part of the day. Eg- morning routine, homework schedule, play schedule, night time routine, etc. This particularly prepares the child for the day and leads to lesser anxieties during transitioning from one activity to the other, as they can always look back and check the schedule for what is expected.

3. Visual Sequence: This type of visual is commonly used to train children to achieve independence in daily routine tasks known as daily living activities. The visuals include steps to complete a multi step task in a sequential order. For example, making a sandwich, taking a bath, dressing self, brushing, etc.

4. Reward Charts: Reward charts are generally used for older kids. This type of visual system is used to highlight the preferred reward of the child that is waiting, once a non-preferred task or a difficult task is accomplished. Reward charts have a goal to bring in motivation for the child to participate in a difficult non-preferred task. Hence, these charts should be used for a shorter span of time in a structured manner. Rewards chosen have to be child specific in nature and not generic.

Below is an example of a weekly reward chart.

Reward chart- This week I am working for- An ice-cream treat.
Task Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Clothes in laundry bag 10 10 10 10 10
Pack school bag 10 10 10 10 10
finish homework 10 10 10 10 10

All of the above-mentioned visuals can be used with children facing challenges like following a routine, anxiety, dependence in activities of daily living, difficult behaviors, lack of motivation for completing tasks, etc. From the above mentioned types of visual schedules, choose an appropriate one by looking at specific needs of your child. Consult your Occupational Therapist for further guidance on the visual schedules.



Intensive Intervention Practice Guide: Using Visual Activity Schedules to Intensify Academic Interventions for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder – https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED591075.pdf

Effectiveness of visual schedule in combination with sensory-integration therapy for developing self-care in children with autism – http://www.ijotonweb.org/article.asp?issn=0445-7706;year=2018;volume=50;issue=3;spage=98;epage=102;aulast=Dash

A Review of Activity Schedules for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder – https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/specialeducation/5/2/5_16-7/_article/-char/ja/