The Value of Activity Schedules

Activity schedules are amazing tools that can benefit a household in many different ways:

  1. Ease transitions
  2. Promote independence/Self-management/Leisure skills
  3. Teach play skills (particularly independent play)
  4. Prompt behavior without a therapist/adult being present
  5. Decrease unsupervised "free time", which is often filled with problem behaviors
  6. Teach following a schedule/teach routines
  7. Signifies when reinforcement is available
  8. Teach choice making

I love, love, love activity schedules. A common recommendation in my behavior plans is to "keep the child engaged". Most of my clients exhibit their worst problem behaviors outside of therapy sessions and school. Why is that? 
It's often because the home environment does not provide the same level of routine and structure as school and therapy sessions. For most of my clients, down time is not their friend. Down time is usually filled with behaviors that Mom or Dad do not want to see increase, like eating carpet lint, dumping out the dog's food bowl, or sitting on top of the refrigerator.

If you are working with an ABA team, ask them if this is something your child could benefit from. If you don't have the support of a team, then keep reading and I'll explain how you can make one yourself.

Firstly, parents often say to me "Is this really necessary? Will he/she always need to have a photo schedule to follow? Won't this be inappropriate when he/she is a teen or adult?". My response to that question is to inquire if the parent ever uses some type of planner (including digital ones) to organize or structure their days. Roughly 80% of the time they tell me they do. I then explain that a planner is a glorified activity schedule. Don't believe me? Okay:

Activity schedule with photos----->Written schedule with no photos----->To Do list----->Organizer/Planner/Scheduling app

Now that you know even adults use a version of an activity schedule, how do you know if your household could benefit from one? If any of these scenarios ring true for you, consider implementing activity schedules:
  1. Afterschool/on the weekends/after therapy sessions the child's problem behavior skyrockets
  2. Breaks from school/3 day holiday weekends are just the WORST, and your child seems to amp up their problem behaviors day by day
  3. The child must be constantly supervised or they will break, climb, or destroy something in the home
  4. The child has no leisure skills, and lacks the ability to just "go play" (these words mean nothing to them)
  5. Telling the child "stay in here" also means nothing, and they tend to just wander all over the house
  6. Mom or Dad cannot do laundry, take a phone call, respond to emails, have company over, or cook dinner unless someone else is home to keep the child entertained/busy
  7. Toys sit around gathering dust, because your child only interacts with them for a few seconds before losing interest
  8. Other children in the home rarely get their share of parent attention or time 
  9. The child will only sit and attend to electronics (TV, iPod, tablet, etc.). Books, toys, puzzles....nope.

Are you starting to love the idea of an activity schedule yet? :-)

Now for the fun part: Making one! *Puh-lease do not buy an activity schedule online. For one, it will not be individualized to your child. For two, it's super easy to make

Decide which part of the day you want to introduce this visual support 
(I suggest picking the part of the day that is currently the MOST difficult to keep your child entertained)

Decide what you want the child to do instead of wandering around, being glued to an electronic, or engaging in problem behavior 
(Puzzle? Read? String beads? Sensory tub?)

Create a visual display of each step. The schedule can show one activity or multiple activities (On a piece of cardboard or thick paper, tape a photo of each separate activity in the order they should be completed)

Consider the use of a timer and reinforcement 
(Timers help ease transitions, and reinforcement is behavior superglue)
Prepare the area
(Have all materials organized and nearby, tape the schedule to the wall)

Teach your child to follow the schedule 
(You will need to prompt and reinforce)

* More information:

Book: Activity Schedules for Children with Autism-Teaching Independent Behavior 

Research: Use of activity schedule to promote independent performance of individuals with Autism and other Intellectual Disabilities

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