You have probably heard the adage, “When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” This is because individuals with autism are unique in their needs and abilities. However, one common trait is their need for routine and visual schedules to help make their daily lives easier.
In the early days of my son’s diagnosis, days felt long, challenging and mentally exhausting. It wasn’t until we started creating daily schedules and routines that life became more manageable for him and our family. The benefits of creating a daily schedule include:
- Reducing anxiety and behaviors by knowing what to expect
- Preparing for transitions and easing the changes
- Providing structure and predictability for the day
The good news is that Pinterest is chockfull of printable visual schedule templates. These free resources make it even easier to create and change routines as your child gets older.
1. Use a Daily Visual Schedule
The Inspired Treehouse offers a few tips to keep in mind when creating your visual schedule.
- Use real pictures that reflect the activity
- Display pictures from top to bottom (vs. left to right)
- Show a clear beginning, middle and end
- Use moveable materials
- Include a ‘Done’ pocket for completed tasks
2. Use Prompts for Transitions
One of the hardest things for me to remember was to prompt my son before we would move on to a new activity. This was a tactic that we learned early on in his Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy. As a busy working mom, I’m always rushing throughout the day. However, the days would come to a screeching halt when I was ready to leave the house to go to the grocery store and my son, Jack, did not want to go.
His meltdowns escalated quickly – my yelling over him to get in the car did no good, and we would then be at a standstill on who would win the battle. Let’s be honest – he’d win every time. Until I learned that early prompts and reminders when we transition from a preferred activity, iPad time, to a non-preferred activity, grocery shopping, these daily errands became easier.
Visual schedules can help tremendously with daily errands, after I became more consistent with prompts prior to activity changes, my son learned to prepare for the change and looked forward to exploring the doldrums of the grocery store. He would earn Skittles for a calm trip and helping me find his favorite treats to take to school.
3. Use a Timer
You may be able to relate to telling your child, “You have five more minutes”, yet you find yourself trying to get them to transition to a new activity 20 minutes later. Children with autism generally do not have a sense of time but seeing the time on a digital clock can lead to more consistent compliance on timed transitions.
Digital clocks now come in fun shapes and sizes. We opted for the Minecraft designed digital clock like this one:
With a prompt for transitions to a new activity and the visual cue of a digital clock, my son has become more happily and consistently compliant.
BONUS TIP! Use Rewards to help inspire smooth transitions. I made a binder for my son with colorful pages and stickers that he could put on each page when he made a smooth activity transition. When he receives 10 stickers on a page, he can choose a prize or a special family outing to the park or the movies. This has helped to reinforce positive behaviors and he looks forward to earning rewards for demonstrating progress toward his daily behavioral goals.
I know it can seem overwhelming to plan daily schedules for your child with autism. However, it makes life easier and more manageable to tackle, when kids are aware of their daily schedule of responsibilities. You’ll also find that it offers you more time for quiet moments to breathe, take a walk or reflect on the progress that you and your child have made.
Images courtesy of PECS for PPCD on Pinterest and Minecraft.