Visual supports are often recommended for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, but the many reasons for this are often misunderstood. One commonly used visual support are visual schedules, which can be based on objects, pictures, and/or words. There are several advantages to the use of schedules, whether the individual knows the general daily routine or not.
Schedules teach independence. Instead of a parent, teacher, or other professional transitioning the individual with ASD, they can reference their schedule. Rather than an adult answering “what’s next” questions, the schedule provides this information.
Schedules create predictability and organization. They let the individual with ASD know what is going to happen, when it will happen, and where. Individuals with ASD are prone to anxiety, particularly when their world is unpredictable, therefore, schedules can reduce this anxiety by increasing predictability.
Many individuals with ASD have verbal/language delays. This makes it difficult for them to fully understand transitions that are presented verbally. A visual schedule, which can be used in conjunction with verbal input, capitalizes on visual strengths to shore up the verbal difficulties.
Schedules can be used to ration the repetitive behaviors and special interests that so often are part of ASD. For a child who wants to talk about superheroes all day long, a schedule can show them when it’s ok to do this. By scheduling the special interest activity, the child still has access to it, but it doesn’t interfere to such a significant degree in other aspects of their day.
Schedules can be used to teach flexibility because they can constantly change. For individuals with ASD, who typically crave routine, the routine of checking a schedule can be the inflexible part of the system, but what is on the schedule can be flexible. This means they can change from day to day, as well as change within the day, even after it’s already been presented to the child. To do this successfully, it’s best to use a visual to indicate that a change in schedule is happening.
Carolyn Kessler, Ph.D. is a child psychologist with more than 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents, and their families on issues related to behavior management and parenting, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, developmental disabilities, and ADHD. She is a graduate of the University at Albany doctoral program in clinical psychology and completed her internship and postdoctoral training at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 280-2151.