How to Make a Visual Schedule for Autism
Visual schedules have rocked our world over the last year, to the point where I don’t know how we ever got along without them. It felt like such a daunting task at first, but once I got over the hump and actually set them up, it began to make a noticeable difference. Both of my boys use them regularly now, and I may even have my own too, to keep my home-based work in check! So many other moms tell me they feel stuck with where to begin, so I’m going to walk you through a simple way to make a visual schedule for autism.
Benefits of a visual schedule for autism
How do you learn best? Is it easier for you to read something on your own, have someone read to you, to see a visual, or try it hands-on? There are many ways of learning, and different minds work in different ways. Many kids on the autism spectrum learn best with visual aids, because their visual cortex is larger. You can take advantage of this and start reaping the benefits of visual schedules. Here are just a few:
1) Creates routines
Autistic children function much better with routines in place. If you don’t have a daily routine for your child, they may seem lost and simply wander through the day. Having a visual schedule helps to create routines, so your child (and maybe you too!) can learn to have a more organized day. In turn, this lowers their stress level and helps ease them into transitions.
2) Helps with transitions
When your child can see a picture of what is coming next, it helps eliminate the surprise factor, and they feel more in control of their life. Of course, you are still the one setting the schedule, so don’t think I’m saying that they get to rule the roost! We are born with an innate desire to control our own lives, and this simple step gives them the sense of control, without actually giving them control, if that makes sense. And that sense of control over their future (the simple knowledge of what’s coming next) helps lessen meltdowns associated with transitions.
3) Improves executive functioning skills
Having a visual schedule for autism also helps improve your child’s executive functioning skills. It makes it possible for them to complete simple tasks on their own, decide what needs to be done, and learn to follow steps in order. Executive functioning skills are crucial to an autistic child’s future independence, so this is a huge benefit! If you want to learn more, check out my other article on executive functioning.
4) Understanding time concepts
While a visual schedule will not teach your child to tell time, it will definitely help them to understand concepts of time. Seeing a list of tasks in a specific order will help them gain an understanding of concepts such as “first-then”, “before”, “after”, “next”, and “last.”
Click the image below to download 3 free daily visual schedules!
Setting up a visual schedule for autism
While there are various other benefits of visual schedules, you should be sold on their efficacy by now, so let’s move on to setting one up for your home. You can start with simple schedules for different times of day, or a full day schedule. We utilize both, for the greatest impact. We have a large daily visual schedule, which lists out the order of our entire day, and smaller visual schedules for our morning, evening, church, and home school routines.
I prefer this system, because my boys can see a clear overview of their day, but they can also get step-by-step help with specific tasks throughout the day, without the schedule getting too busy. So here are some tips for making different types of visual schedules.
Make a full day schedule
Plan out a typical full week. You can type this up, or just use a piece of paper and write the days out too – whatever works for you. The idea is to get a complete list of what you do on any given day. Here’s an example:
Then, you can use Word, PowerPoint, or Canva to make your visual schedule. I prefer Canva because it’s easy to use, they have pre-made templates, and there’s tons of free images, graphics, and fonts! If you’re not using Canva (they have a free version, which will be sufficient), you will need to find images on Google or another search engine. Be sure to save each of your images to a folder you can easily find, such as a new one labeled “Visual Schedule.” Hey, I try to keep things fool-proof! Then you can import them into Word or PowerPoint.
If you use Canva, you can do everything in one step. Open Canva, and choose your template (US Letterhead). Drag text boxes onto your document for each step. Then search for related images, and drop them next to the text boxes. Some examples: we use a cute little sunshine image for “morning routine,” a plate with food for “lunch,” and a bed for “nap time.” It doesn’t have to be complicated. Boom. Download the visual schedule you just drafted, and print it off. If you have the same schedule for each day of the week, you can print it off as is, laminate it, and be ready to roll. If your order of events changes from day to day, simply print off a schedule with all of the possible steps during a given week, and cut them into strips, so each step is its own strip. Then you can move the strips around from day to day, to change the order, add, or take away an event. It’s really simple!
Make specific visual schedules for autism
To help your child learn specific routines, such as morning routine, order of events in church, or home school routine, you can make specific visual schedules. We have a “morning routine” posted on the bedroom door. This way, when the boys wake, they know what their first few steps are, before coming down the stairs. While they still can’t do some tasks independently, such as brushing teeth and washing faces, they know the routine, since a visual schedule is available. We walk through each of the steps together each morning, and I ask them questions, such as “What’s next?” and “Now, do we eat breakfast or wash our face?” This helps build their language skills as well…bonus!
You can get even more specific, if you want your child to work on one particular task, such as toileting or brushing their teeth. You can put together a simple, step-by-step visual aid to help them gain independence on tasks that have multiple steps. Here’s a visual schedule I made for brushing teeth:
With every step laid out, your child can get used to thinking through the process, which will help them learn to complete these tasks without assistance, in time. You can find another free visual schedule (like the one in the pinnable image at the top of this page) over at AndNextComesL.com.
Getting used to using a visual schedule for autism
Honestly, the hard part is actually getting it put together. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get in the habit of using the visual schedule, once you have it printed. Place a daily schedule in a common place, such as on a fridge or command center, so your child can refer to it throughout the day. Place specific visual aids in an appropriate place. For example, post a toileting schedule opposite to the toilet, so it can be seen during toileting. Be consistent in using the visual schedule, so it becomes a routine for your child.
What’s been holding you back from using a visual schedule for autism? Did you feel like it was unnecessary? Too much work? Just didn’t know where to start? Let me know in the comments! Also let me know if you’ve been using visual schedules and love them!