Visual schedules at home – what, who and why?

Have you been advised by your child’s school or therapist to use a visual schedule at home and you’re not sure where to start or indeed if it’s really worth the effort?

To coincide with Autism Awareness Week we’re featuring a series of blogs in which we’ll look at the benefits of using visual schedules at home, the different types of schedules you can use and how to get the most out of them. We’ll start by looking at what a visual schedule actually is and why you’d want to use one.

What is a visual schedule?

what is a visual scheduleIn simple terms, any series of pictures, photographs, drawings, words or numbers which depict a sequence of events or activities can be described as a visual schedule or support.

Most of us rely on some form of schedule to help us organise our lives. Think about your calendar, to-do list or a recipe you recently followed; these are all examples of visual schedules that help us remember what we’ll be doing and when things will happen.

We rely on these supports to help us navigate our day-to-day lives and can quickly get anxious if we don’t have them. Think of a time when you’ve misplaced your diary or mobile phone and missed an important meeting or turned up late as a result.

A visual schedule (sometimes referred to as a visual timetable or timeline) for an autistic child is a way of showing them information about daily activities, objects or events using pictures, photographs, symbols or written words.

Who uses visual schedules?

As you can see, in some form or other we all do! In most cases though, we don’t need to use the same sort of visual reminders for the regular and predictable parts of our daily lives.

However, children with autism/ASD often have difficulties dealing with unstructured time and benefit from the increased structure and reassurance provided by a visual schedule. They can feel lost or anxious if daily activities aren’t clearly indicated or a sequence of events is not understood.

Imagine being totally dependent on family and friends to remind you of your daily activities and the frustration you might feel if the information they gave you was inconsistent or difficult to understand. A physical visual support provides consistency and avoids the transiency of verbal instructions.

Why use visual schedules at home?

Research has shown that many children with ASD have strong visual skills and that visual schedules are one of the most effective interventions for these children. Visual learners are more likely to remember and understand what they see than what they hear and a visual schedule can also reinforce verbal instructions that may have been missed or forgotten.

Most children will be used to seeing visual timetables and prompts at school that show the class what to expect during the school day and how to navigate around the classroom.

I know what at home collage OU smaller

For children with autism and other learning difficulties, it can be even more important to use visual schedules at home than at school. Whilst the school day is largely based on routine the same structure doesn’t usually happen at home and this can often lead to tantrums and meltdowns.

Using a visual schedule at home can help to:

  • establish clear expectations and prevent behaviour problems
  • reduce anxiety about what is happening next
  • increase self-help skills
  • develop independence which fosters self-esteem
  • reduce the amount of time spent leading an over-dependent child through activities

Sounds like a lot of effort – is it worth it?

There are clearly many advantages to using visual schedules but we know from experience that getting started and persevering can be a daunting and time consuming task.

These days there’s certainly plenty of information and resources available online and elsewhere but finding the right thing for you and your child amongst it all can be a challenge. Where do you start?

In part 2 Visual schedules at home – choosing the right one we’ll be looking at different types of visual schedules and how to choose the most suitable one for you and your child. 

In part 3 Visual schedules at home – making sure they work we’ll share some top tips for using your schedule and how best to make it work effectively.