There are many different ways to help kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) learn and grow. Visual routine charts can be the key to helping a child become more independent and less anxious day to day. There is clear evidence regarding the benefits of using visual schedules, and there are many different ways to implement them. Whether you are the parent to an ASD child or you are in the periphery of their life, you can help them to communicate with you through visual routines.
Why Use a Visual Routine Chart?
Children with ASD often have greater difficulties with unstructured time than neurotypical kids. They also sometimes lack the ability to communicate with those who care for them. Some children are completely non-verbal, and visual charts can help them to articulate their desire to perform an activity. By making use of your child’s visual strengths, it helps to provide them with a communication system to help increase their understanding, learn new things, and use skills in a variety of settings. If your child has any inappropriate behaviors (common in ASD children), it can also help them to curb their need to act out by teaching them to remain calm and focus on the task at hand. The self-esteem and independence that the child will develop with this communication medium is worth the time it takes to set it up.
How Difficult Is It To Implement?
The beauty of using a daily activity chart for kids is that it can be as simple as you need it to be. There are endless free printable charts that you can use, or you can buy some pre-made visual routines online or in your favorite stores. It’s important to remember that ASD children are as likely to respond well to a stick figure drawn on a post-it note as they are to an elaborate set-up you may find for hundreds of dollars at an early learning center. The key to success is in working with your child to help them grasp the concept behind it. The point is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. And any time you put into creating your visual schedule will come back to you in saved time dealing with behavior problems.
What Does a Visual Schedule Actually Do?
Put simply, a visual schedule is there to reassure your child about what is going to happen and the order of events. It also teaches them to look for information instead of memorizing it. Often ASD kids can get in the habits of doing the same things in the same sequence. By utilizing a visual schedule, it teaches them that the order of activities can change, making them more open to new things. It will help them to cope when something unexpected comes up. At the same time, by having a visual representation of their schedule, it allows them to come to their own understanding of how the day will play out without you having to communicate it over and over again. This gives the child a sense of independence they might not otherwise have had. They can look to the visual schedule and move from one activity to the next without prompting.
How Do I Set Up A Visual Schedule?
First, you need to decide what type of visual routine you wish to implement. Whichever you choose should be based on the individual strength of the child. Some kids do not relate to photos or pictures, but they prefer reading. In that case, a written schedule with simple words or phrases may be your best bet. Non-verbal communicators may prefer an object-based schedule where you use simple household objects to signify an activity – a fork for eating, a colored ball for play time, a comb for hygiene, etc. Base your schedule type on your child at their worst. Think about when they are having a bad day, and think hard about which type would work for that moment.
Once you have decided on the best type of schedule, you will have to figure out the length of the schedule. Some children may be overwhelmed seeing their entire day mapped out. In that case, work with only a few activities at a time. You may want to create a morning routine, afternoon routine and evening routine. Other kids do not like not knowing everything, so in that case the full day’s layout may be appropriate. Setting up a visual routine may require some trial and error to get right. Keep making tweaks and changes until your child is comfortable.
Next, you will need to decide on the best way to remind your child to check the schedule. Verbal cues are often hard for ASD kids to take, so take into consideration the type of visual routine you are using. If you’re utilizing an object-based schedule, then simply handing your child a new object is enough of a cue. For written schedules, perhaps hold a card with a word written on it to remind them to check their schedule. And for picture-based routines, find a picture that communicates the same idea.
Finally, you’ll need to teach them how to use the schedule. This can be the trickiest part of the process since concepts can often be hard for ASD kids to grasp. It may take some time, but communicate with them in their preferred format and encourage them to match up the visual cues of their schedule with the activity in question. Gentle prods from behind can help guide them to each activity, while you refer them to the appropriate visual cue. In time, they will come to an understanding. You’ll need to continue to monitor their progress as they go on, making sure they understand how to use the schedule and that they are doing so independently.
It’s important to remember that you will need to make sure everything is included in the schedule. If a change is needed (an unexpected outing or visitor, for instance), add it to the schedule as soon as you can to help the child learn flexibility. Autistic kids often react badly to change, so mitigate any potential behavioral issues by teaching them flexibility within the schedule.
Where Can I Find Pictures for Visual Schedules?
There are amazing resources available online to help you to create your own visual routine charts for kids. A great site for downloading printable cards is Do2Learn, an educational website for special needs. You can also buy some appropriate “eye-cons” from KidAccess, which has a broad range of visuals to help in every situation.
To help even more, here are 16 visual routine charts for kids with autism.
Visual Daily Routine Cards | Kori At Home
Magnetic Visual Schedule | Amazon
Daily Visual Schedule | Natural Beach Living
Autism Visual Schedule Board | Amazon
Morning Routine Visual Schedule Printables | Natural Beach Living
Behavior Activity Magnets | Amazon
Daily Routine Schedule Materials and Resources | Natural Beach Living
Bedtime Routine and Personal Hygiene Cards | Kori At Home
18 Piece Activity Magnets | Amazon
Morning Routine Checklist | Mom Inspired Life
Morning Routine Chart | Amazon
Morning and Night Routine Visual Schedule | Natural Beach Living
Responsibility Chore Chart | Amazon
Morning Routine Printable | Over the Big Moon
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