Visual schedules can be incorporated in a child's day as pictures, words, symbols, etc. I currently have my typically developing 20-month daughter on visual schedules, and this is what I wanted to talk about today. Over the holidays, I noticed that with jumping around to the different houses and families all over the five boroughs and long island, that she didn't have a good understanding of what was going on. Although verbal, she was having a tough time with the travel and lack of predictability.
I purchased a dry-erase board, and created visual flow checklist for her of our day. EAch morning during breakfast, i brought out the board, and sketched one picture per activity of her day (e.g. for grandmas house it was a pic of a house and two people that i called grandma and grandpa), and included about 6-8 things that we were going to do that day. With each picture, i gave her buzz words to remember them. As the day went on, i referenced the checklist with her and we checked off the things that we had done (i didn't erase them as I wanted to reference them and refer to things that we had finished that day). She didn't understand all of it the first couple of times, but by the third or fourth day, we caught her referencing it and referring to the symbols.
Did it work? DAta indicates yes. Prior to using the schedule, i noted how she was able to retell what we did in a day and the number of correct utterances referring to our day. Following the implementation of this schedule, this number increased as did the comments in our car rides about where we were going, what we were going to see and who we are going to see.
The point is, visual schedule are not just for children with significant impairments or children with disabilities, although very important for these children as well. Recently at a team meeting i was told "but he is high-functioning and very verbal so he doesn't need a visual schedule." This statement is completely false.
1. All of us need visual schedules. Looking at our lives, how would we fair without a blackberry, planner, outlook etc to know what is coming up in our lives and in our day. That being said, it seems unrealistic and unreasonable to assume that our children wouldn't need a visual schedule as well.
2. For children with inhibition difficulties, autism, etc., predictability in their day is difficult to manage and fully understand. Although verbal ability may be high, maintaining a flow of the day covertly is another challenge that is an unnecessary requirement to place on our children. A visual schedule is a support that removes yet another task and allows the child to focus on more important tasks at hand (i.e. accessing learning and social opportunities)
3. When a child is anxious, although they may be verbal, the state of arousal takes over and makes it difficult to focus or retrieve information that under normal circumstances would be fine. Think of a typical adult in a fight with their significant other. While we may not have autism or a disability, and are fully verbal, in the state of anxiety and arousal of a fight, we may be inclined to yell and scream and throw things, forget chores that should have been done and forgotten events that we needed to attend. A visual support for a child in a state of anxiety and frustration will help direct them to what is going on.
One of the uses in the schools for high functioning children as well, is to keep that dry-erase board handy so that schedules can be mapped out as needed. When a child begins to get frustrated and seems confused, this is when a visual schedule can be used as a support for not only de-escalation but also as a proactive strategy.
Schedules do not have to map out the entire day or with the use of pictures. Words, symbols, sketches, photos can all be used. Uses can include:
- the entire day
- the school day or the afterschool day
- the events at a special event (birthday party, dentist, etc.)
- the big events over the course of a week (monday is dance, tuesday speech, etc.)
- the weekend
- the month with pictorial cues of where the child will be,
- the previous activity, the current activity, and the next activity
- the next few activities
- choices of activities