Most days, it seems as though I am running from the moment my alarm goes off in the morning until I lay my head on my pillow at night—and even then my mind is constantly reciting a never-ending to-do list! There seems to be a constant array of doctors’ appointments, therapies, work obligations, fundraisers, and play dates. And even though it can be quite exhausting some days, at least I limited the chaos by taking a few minutes to plan it all out. Yes, that’s right. I’m that crazy wife and mom with the huge day planner, mapping out the lives of each of my family members. But can you even imagine how stressful our lives would be if we didn’t know what was happening next? What if we were in the middle of doing something important, and suddenly our spouse (or child) said, “Ok, time to go! Get your shoes on and get in the car!” It would be incredibly frustrating!
Experience has taught me that children with Autism are no different in their desire for predictability. They transition much more easily from one activity to the next if they are given a visual or verbal cue beforehand. One method that I have used with my own children, as well as my clients, is a visual schedule. A visual schedule can take many forms: it can be a simple block grid that is filled in each day with a dry erase marker; it can be adorable clip art pictures; or it can be drawn on a piece of lined paper. Whatever the form, the function is the same across the board—provide the child with a visual representation of their day, and you create an invaluable tool!
In September 2003, Margaret Brown, a teacher and writer for Autism Outreach in Canada, published a list of 30 reasons why parents should keep and use a visual schedule. While I won't list all 30 reasons, a complete list can be found at the following link: http://www.autismoutreach.ca/assets/30visual.pdf) but I will give you my personal top 3.
- "Children with Autism miss most of the language and social/behavior cues that help the rest of us understand what is happening. Autistic children can become anxious, resistant, and may misbehave simply because they have no way to anticipate the events that come upon them each day."
- Some children with autism have very obvious deficits in receptive and expressive language. In part, these deficits can be the result of numerous external and internal events; e.g. poor sleep, being bombarded with obscure social cues, being hypersensitive to things happening in the environment, etc. A visual schedule acts as a much needed supplement in providing your child with a means of processing communication.
- "Visual schedules are tangible, and non-transitory; language is fleeting." There have been more instances than I can count when a child didn't hear what I told them to do, or couldn't recall the next step in our schedule. Whether this is due to simple inattentiveness, or overstimulation, a visual schedule will reduce the likelihood of these instances because it is a tangible; they can hold it and refer to it throughout the day. As an added bonus, a visual schedule will create a sense of independence and personal accountability because they are no longer looking to you, the adult, to tell them what is happening next.