Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Visual Schedules! What are they and how can I make one?

With the holidays quickly approaching, and how different our schedules will be over break that I thought I'd share with you the importance of using a visual schedule/charts to reduce anxiety for your children.

Visual schedules and visual charts are a great way to teach your child what events are to come as well as what activities or behaviors you would like to see from them.

Visual schedules are often used for children diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) as they are often times, concise, clear and the visuals aid in a child's comprehension.

In this way you can use visual cues to help support a child who struggles with behaviors.  Having a visual support to demonstrate the behaviors you WANT your child to exhibit helps remind him/her what behaviors he/she should be exhibiting in various situations. This technique is called using a visual chart or behavior chart.

Visual cues can also help your child understand time concepts.  By creating a daily, weekly or monthly schedule you can really help your child begin to understand days of the week, months of the year, and other time concepts. 

Once your child understands that each day is different, and time is not only measured on a clock or watch but can be measured in terms of "yesterday, today, tomorrow", you can begin to introduce various verb tenses.

The use of visual charts and schedules can also aid in reducing anxiety of the unknown by visually showing him/her what is coming up next.  If you have a child like mine, who has become obsessed with questions like "Mom, what are we doing today?" or "Mom, what's going on?", a visual schedule can be another way for your child to answer these questions for him/herself.  You begin to teach your children how to use what we SLPs like to call "compensatory strategies" to understand his/her world around him!

Tips to creating visual schedules:
1.  Keep it simple
2.  Know what you are trying to achieve or teach
3.  Use pictures that carry the meaning you intend

Example:  Weekly Schedule
In an effort to teach my child that everyday of the week has a name and we have plans for every day of the week, I made this very simple 7-day visual schedule below.  I have a symbol (and name) for every day of the week.  Below each day I have the typical activity we have planned for that day and below that I have a blank box.  I use this box to draw or write in any changes to our plans or additional activities we have planned for that particular day (I laminated the schedule so I could use dry erase markers on to do this).

Everyday my son moves a magnet from "yesterday" to "today"!  And we talk about what we did "yesterday" and what the plan is for "today" AND "tomorrow".  This is the beginning of introducing these time concepts.  We also address the day by its name as well so we begin to learn the days of the week.  (See how these activities lend itself to be a language activity as well???)

This is just one example of a visual schedule.  Your child's needs may differ from this.  Your child may be ready for a more complex visual schedule.  The key is to keep your goal in mind and create a schedule in which its complexity does NOT go beyond what your child can understand. 

Here are some other examples of visual schedules:

Courtesy of:
This appears to be a visual schedule for morning routine.
It's short and simple!
This appears to be a visual chart used with smiley faces used to demonstrate that the behavior was complete.  I added this example to show that sometimes children need to do something to show completion of each step!

Courtesy of:
This is a simple horizontal visual schedule of events during what
appears to be a class period or therapy session of some sort.  A simple way to show your child the activity was completed is to have your child pull each picture off the schedule as it is finished.  I added this picture because I LOVE horizontal visual schedules as they mirror reading left to right and it is quite simple to find the next activity if you pull each picture off when completed.

Courtesy of:
This is a simple visual behavior checklist.  I added this because it
illustrates how you can use visuals not only to sequence events or explain dates but to illustrate and teach your child what behaviors you want them to exhibit!
DIY-Visual Schedules:
You can make visual schedules fairly easy in this day and age of technology!

1.  Don't be afraid to use Real Pictures:  take pictures of your child performing the actions you want him/her to do, print them out, and put them in the correct sequence.  Real pictures are actually preferred for children that are more literal and struggle to understand symbols!

2.  Use Pictures found on Google Images or Bing Images:  You don't need a fancy computer program to create great visual pictures. You can find several great real life or cartoon pictures on these search sites that you can use.  Just remember to pick pictures that carry the intended meaning!

3.  Use tables, calendars and other templates in Microsoft:  One of the simpliest ways to create a visual table or graphic organizer is to use ones that already exist!  Why reinvent the wheel if all you need is a simple table that can be easily inserted into a Microsoft word document or powerpoint (that can be more easily manipulated in some instances)?! 

4.  Review the visual schedule with your child and spend time teaching him/her how to use it!  You cannot expect your child to understand or use a visual schedule just by seeing it once.  Visual schedules must be taught, referred to throughout the day, and rehearsed.  Don't expect your child to be able to use it independently overnight, although your long term goal is always to have your child use his/her visual schedule as independently as possible!

You can do it!  It just take time! 

I'd love to hear from parents and professionals on this topic.  If you have created and used visual schedules or visual behavior charts with your own children or your students or clients, what was the visual schedule for?  How did you teach your child how to use it?

As always...Happy Talking!!!

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