Visual Schedules Series: 7 Reasons to Use Schedules

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I was reviewing the posts on the blog the other day thinking I had written quite a few about visuals schedules, only to discover that I really hadn’t.  So, let me correct that error by starting a series of posts on using schedules and the types of schedules that are often used for students on the spectrum.  In the picture to the left, there are all different types of schedules that require all sorts of decisions about what makes sense for each individual.

In the next few weeks I will look at different types of individual schedules, why we need group schedules and when they are appropriate by themselves, the use of first-then schedules, deciding about the form of schedule (e.g., object, picture-symbol, photo or written) and the use of mini-schedules.  We will look at schedules in a variety of settings including self-contained classrooms, inclusion classrooms, work sites, community and home.

For this first post, I want to start with why schedules are important for students with autism and some general thoughts about developing them.

Why Use Visual Schedules

  1. Independence: The primary reason I see for using visual schedules is that they promote independence in many ways.  If you have a schedule, you can transition and navigate your day without another person having to tell you where to go and what to do.  
  2. They help avoid power struggles.  If I have a schedule that tells me what to do, I can’t argue with it.  I can’t tell you how many times I have said, “Schedule says __” and had the student follow the direction but if I said, “I need you to do ___” it wouldn’t happen.  The schedule takes the “personal” piece out of it and makes it more objective.  
  3. They provide a permanent visual reminder.  I can leave a schedule with you and you can check it throughout the day.  When the teacher moves on to another student, the activity or the transition doesn’t stop.
  4. They relieve anxiety.  Imagine if I took your calendar away from you.  Would you know when your dentist appointment would be?  Do you know the location of your son’s soccer game?  You might find you keep asking those questions when you don’t have a visual to refer to (i.e., your calendar).  Ever have a student who engages in constant questioning?  Sometimes it’s because they are anxious about what is going to happen next.  A schedule allows them to check their schedule instead of checking with you and learn to independently moderate their anxiety.  Reducing anxiety allows them to focus on the task at hand.
  5. They communicate with students.  The give students information about what is going to happen and what is expected.  When I check my schedule and it tells me we are going to PE, I know to be prepared to go outside.  If it tells me it’s time for lunch, I know to prepare myself to enter the loud and smelly cafeteria.  This communication also helps them use picture symbols receptively to understand what is happening in their environment and eventually to communicate.
  6. Individuals with autism often understand visual information best.  This isn’t true of all individuals on the spectrum, but for many they comprehend information faster and more easily visually.  So why not use a medium that uses their strengths.
  7. They are evidence based.  Both the National Professional Development Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders and the National Autism Center found visual schedules to be an evidence-based practice as noted below.

There are several other reasons to use schedules that we will talk about in this series.  So, over the next weeks, stick with me as we travel through different types of schedules, making decisions about schedule form and function, and discuss resources for creating schedules.  In the meantime, I will leave you with a great video of why visual supports in general are important from OCALI.

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