If you’ve been following our mini-series of posts for Autism Awareness Week, you’ll already know what a visual schedule is and how it might benefit your child (Visual schedules – what, who and why) and you’ll have thought about what type you’re going to try (Visual schedules at home – choosing the right one).
Now none of that is any use unless you’re able to make it work effectively for you and your child so we’re finishing off with some top tips to making visual schedules work for you.
You might start with a daily schedule that shows the major events in your child’s day but then you can add a number of mini schedules to target particular tasks or events. Breaking activities or parts of the day down into smaller sections avoids having one schedule that is too long or difficult for your child to follow.
For example, if you are having difficulty with a particular routine then try a mini schedule just for that activity. A simple way is to make up a sequence of pictures showing the individual steps in the routine and the sequence of them such as this example for a bedtime routine.
Get your child involved
The extent to which you can do this will obviously depend on the age and ability of your child but the more you can involve them in helping to make their own schedules, the more likely they are to take ownership and be committed and motivated towards using them.
This was an important consideration for us when we designed TomTag and we chose bright colours for our tags to encourage children to want to use them. We have also found that TomTag is very tactile and children really enjoy applying the stickers and clicking the buttons into place.
Be consistent – use it every day
It may take a little more effort in the beginning but using a schedule consistently and integrating it into your normal routines is a key factor to success. Have your schedules prominently displayed so that your child can see them in the places they need to use them. Use the schedule to guide your child back to an activity if he wanders away.
Encourage your child to use their schedule by using it as a reference when talking with them about what they have just experienced, what is happening now or what is coming next.
Make sure that the language you use to talk about the schedule matches your child’s level of understanding and, if appropriate, model how to use it by performing the steps yourself.
Review and adapt
Just because a schedule is working now unfortunately doesn’t mean you can put your feet up and relax! Remember that the aim at the end of the day is more independence so change is a necessary (and welcome) part of the process.
Monitor how your child is using their schedules. If after a few weeks of use they no longer need the same prompts to complete the activity then congratulations! Move on and target another routine or area of difficulty. If on the other hand there’s been no progress with independence, try changing the format of your schedule or reducing the number of steps in it. Do bear in mind any other factors that may be holding things back eg. illness or problems at school and if necessary, wait and try again with the same schedule another time.
Remember to keep schedules up to date and be consistent in showing all the child’s activities especially if there are frequent changes.
Long term benefits
There are many advantages to using visual schedules at home for a child with autism/ASD and their family. As well as the more obvious immediate benefits you will gain, time and effort invested now will bear dividends in later life so be persistent – it is worth it!
The ability to follow a schedule independently is a universal skill that makes many areas of life more accessible, impacting on education (attending school, completing homework, etc), daily living tasks and ultimately employment.
We value the use of schedules at home very much and so we’re delighted that we’ve been able to add a set to our range specifically for this purpose – our I know what to expect at home pack.