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Visual Schedules for Students with Autism: The Why and How

Posted by Christen Barbercheck on

We’re all about visual timers here at Time Timer, but you might not know that we’re big fans of visual schedules, too. What’s a visual schedule? It’s just like it sounds—a visual representation of what’s going to happen in what order. And there’s a lot of research showing the promise of visual schedules for students with autism.

 Since April is National Autism Awareness Month, we think it’s the perfect time to take a closer look at visual schedules. We’re exploring how they can benefit individuals with autism—especially students—both at home and in the classroom. It’s our way of celebrating this month in the spirit of autism awareness and acceptance.

The Why: Evidence-Based Approach

One survey found that visual schedules were the second most popular treatment used by parents of children with autism, and it’s no surprise why. Studies have shown they can help increase understanding, learning and flexibility while decreasing anxiety and inappropriate behaviors. Ultimately, visual schedules may help students with autism achieve greater independence and higher self-esteem.

Visual schedules also have the advantage of working for children with a variety of language skills. The picture-based nature—whether it’s drawings or photographs—may more effectively communicate a classroom or after-school routine than written or spoken instructions. Think of a visual schedule as a more effective way to set expectations and ease transitions. It’s a communication aid with benefits for parents and teachers, as well as students with autism. 

The How: A Visual Schedule Template

If there’s a template for introducing visuals schedules, it’s to start off small then build on your success over time. You’re introducing and teaching a new skill, so it’s important to ease into things. One good first step: Try creating a First-Then visual schedule. It typically pairs something you need to do now (homework) followed by a more desirable activity or reward (playing in the backyard). We recommend facilitating this with our Time Timer MOD Dry Erase Board. Simply create two simple drawings on the dry erase board to represent the First-Then activities. Then use the integrated timer to show how much time is available for each activity. 

Once you’ve found success with simple visual schedules, you can work up to mapping out multi-step routines. It might be the morning routine before school or a few classroom activities. This allows a child to see what’s going to happen next, and one study found it can even decrease the transition time between activities.

To make this process easier, we offer a Visual Schedule Kit that comes with blank faces for the Time Timer 8- or 12-inch models and activity stickers that visually depict a range of common activities. You might map out your child’s morning routine with the blank face and stickers. Maybe you son or daughter needs 5 minutes for teeth brushing, 15 minutes for breakfast and then 10 minutes to make it to the bus stop. They’ll see how much time is left for each activity and what’s coming next. 

Visual schedules are tools that empower students with autism to manage their own time and achieve greater independence. It helps you establish positive routines at home or in the classroom. And practice your drawing skills!

Time Timer Visual Schedule Dry Erase Board + MOD

Here's a real life example of a Visual Schedule utilizing the Time Timer MOD + Dry Erase Board.

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