1. Think of your day and what you want your child to do. Maybe chunk it into the morning activities, afternoon and evening. Write it down.
Morning: wake up; go to the bathroom; eat breakfast; play inside; play outside; watch a video; have a snack; play inside . . . etc.
Or for an older child: wake up; get dressed for school; eat breakfast; check your backpack; get on the school bus . . .
2. The schedule will look like a list of activities.
3. Think of a picture / icon / photo that represents or symbolizes the activity. What could wake up look like (a bed; a kid in pajamas; an alarm clock)? What could go to the bathroom look like (a toilet; a bathroom; a sink; a faucet and soap)? Etc.
4. Look around your house – how can you get a picture / icon? You could use google images if you have a computer and printer. You could cut pictures out of magazines or old books. Or you could draw. (Most parents say, “I can’t draw. I’m no artist!” But your child will understand even a simple line-drawing. Try it! It works.
5. Make two small images of each activity. One will go on the schedule, the other will go in the area the child is supposed to do the activity. All the child has to do is match. For older kids, who understand already where to go, you may only have to have one drawing.
6. Tape two pieces or paper or cardboard or a thick brown grocery bag to make a vertical strip.
7. Put the pictures up with paper clips in the order they will probably happen.
8. Show you child when it is time to do the next thing. Or tell them, “Check your schedule”. Or hand them something that reminds them to check their schedule. Some children will need to take the picture off and match it, leaving it where they went (like in the bathroom). Other kids can take the picture and put it in a pile somewhere specific, or in an envelope, and go to where they are supposed to and do the activity (e.g., the schedule is in the kitchen, but the child checks it, sees the picture of video, takes the picture down and puts it in a specific place, and then goes to the tv room to watch a video).
9. Older children who can read can have a written schedule on a piece of paper or a white-board or chalkboard. After something is done, or after they have read it, they can check it off, or erase it.
10. Eventually, some kids can write their own schedules. Do this only if your child can write easily. It is good training for adolescence and adulthood.
Visual schedules are necessary to help a person with autism compensate for some of their underlying disabilities. While it is true that some children will eventually memorize their routines, we always want to use schedules because things in life change, it’s not always the same day to day, there are surprises. Visual schedules help keep your child flexible but ready.
by Jeffrey Maloney, Ph.D.
ACES Executive Clinical Advisor
1210 S. Bascom Avenue, San Jose, CA