Do you have a preference for receiving information visually?
- Always look at the recipe when cooking?
- Always need to write a grocery list, or you'll forget something?
- Write daily To Do lists or checklists?
- Have Post It notes stuck on walls all over your house?
- Leave things by the front door so you don't forget them in the morning?
- Learn better by observing the task rather than hearing about it?
- Love charts or diagrams? Love highlighting, underlining, or color coding?
- Find that people ask your help with organizing or planning?
- Have to use notes or index cards if you are going to speak in front of people?
- Remember how to spell a word by closing your eyes and visualizing the word?
Did you answer yes to most of these questions? :-)
So what did you win? Well, nothing. Except a future filled with making lists.
I definitely have a strong preference for receiving/learning information visually (some people might use the term "visual learner", however the idea of learning styles has been debunked and is not empirically validated) so I can relate to my kiddos who often need visual supports to feel calm and in control of their environment.
I write To Do lists, and then I write checklists for completing my To Do lists (not kidding). If you write instructions for me on how to do something...I might understand. If you verbally tell me how to do something...I'll probably get it. But if you show me visually how to do something, I've got it!
I understand how stressful and chaotic it can feel when organization and order aren't embedded in my environment.
For many of my clients with Autism they struggle daily to navigate through what people expect them to do, when to do it, when to stop doing it, and what to do next. I am basically describing a sequence of daily activities.
A visual schedule is a visual representation of a sequence or activity. Individuals with Autism tend to be concrete learners who benefit greatly from visual schedules. Due to impairments in focus, rote memory, and generalization individuals with Autism often have difficulty adjusting to their environment. Visual schedules also help provide routine, organization, and structure, which many kids crave. If the child has a visual schedule to look at each day--even if the schedule changes--then it helps lower the child's anxiety about what is coming up next.
How do you know if your child or client could benefit from a visual schedule? Here are a few red flags:
- The child asks for items or activities over and over again ("I want outside....I want outside.....I want outside")
- The child always needs prompts to transition, to start an activity, or to stop an activity
- The child has regular tantrums at specific times of day, such as they tantrum everyday when its Circle Time
- The child completes steps out of order or skips steps
- The child has difficulty waiting to do an activity, such as waiting for their reinforcer at the therapy table
- You repeatedly have to state a demand more than 3 times
- The child forgets things frequently
- The child completes very few activities independently
If you answered yes to most of those questions, then you are dealing with a child who could absolutely use some visual supports. Visual supports are more than just visual schedules. They could include transition signs, labels, visual directions, reminders, conversation cues, reinforcement token boards, checklists, "First/Then" cards, waiting prompts, etc.
Visual schedules do not have to be purchased from a specialty store or Autism website. They are very easy to make and affordable. I would suggest at a minimum creating a daily schedule for both home and school, and if the child is school-age a separate morning routine schedule.
I meet SO many parents who have consistent difficulties with the morning routine: getting their child out of bed, dressed, fed, and off to school. The morning is usually a stressful, crazed, loud, frustrating part of the parents day. All of that can be changed by creating a visual representation of what the ideal routine looks like, and then teaching the child to consistently follow the routine. Visual supports help bring order to chaos.
I made a video explaining how to make a visual schedule, some tips for teaching it to the child, and how to modify it for older children.
Autism Speaks has a Visual Supports Tool Kit on their website that is full of helpful information about how to create visual schedules.