Since many people with autism are visual learners, visual activity schedules can be helpful. A visual schedule is a series of pictures, drawings, photos, or objects. The schedule can show steps in a process or a series of events. Since a schedule shows what will be happening, it helps a person with autism to be prepared for the transitions. As an example, a parent might make a visual schedule of the steps to getting ready for school in the morning.
What Does Research Say About Visual Schedules?
In a review of research published in 2015, researchers identified that visual activity schedules are supported by research to help with:
- Staying on-task during transitions,
- Making transitions independently,
- Starting a task quickly when asked to start it,
- Completely steps in a task correctly,
- Reducing the number of prompts needed to transitions between activities.
Additionally, the researchers reported that visual activity schedules can be used effectively with all ages and across the spectrum (“classic” autism and Asperger’s).
How Do You Teach Visual Schedules?
The research also shows that directly teaching students how to use the visual schedule is important. The student may not know how to use the schedule without direct instruction. Many of the studies they reviewed showed that, at first, prompts were used to show the students how to use the schedule. These could be verbal prompts (explaining how the schedule works), gestural prompts (using gestures to show how to transition between activities), or physical prompts (gently physically guiding the student through the transition when shown each picture). Reinforcement (such as praise, small pieces of favorite snacks, or other rewards) may also considered to be helpful. Rewards might be given for doing each step of the schedule or for completing the whole schedule, depending on how frequently each student needs rewards to keep motivated to participate.
There are also different ways to present schedules. Most of the research studies reviewed showed the schedule pictures one at a time, but some presented all of the pictures at once. It was recommended that younger students or students who have more “complex support needs” might benefit from the pictures being shown one at a time.
For more information, please read the complete research review:
"Evaluating Visual Activity Schedules as Evidence-Based Practice for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders" by Victoria Knight, Emily Sartini, and Amy D. Spriggs
Journal: Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Volume 45 (2015), pages 157-178. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-014-2201-z