How to Create Visual Schedules for Autism

When setting up a classroom, one of the most important additions to that environment is to make sure you have visual schedules for autism.

Why use visual schedules for autism and other students?

There are many benefits from using visual schedules. Most important, visual schedules give the students information. They provide structure and predictability to the day. That helps students participate in daily routines and it reduces many behavior difficulties. Schedules also aid in helping the student develop communication and language skills.

Who benefits from visual schedules?

Students with other special learning needs and even the children in regular education programs can benefit from having a visual schedule to give them information. But those with autism seem to benefit the most from the structure that the visual schedule provides. 

Also, schedules can work for any age.  An elementary schedule may look different from a high school schedule, but the function or purpose remains the same.

(Schedules can work great at home, too. I'll write about that in another blog post.)

Here are some simple steps to follow to create a classroom schedule.


Identify segments that are noticeably different to the student. For example, note:

  • changes from one room to another
  • changes in location within the classroom (from the big table to individual desks or  from sitting on carpet squares in one corner to a circle of chairs across the room)
  • changes in activity that use different materials
  • changes in staff

It's not necessary or possible to list every single activity in a day. That would make the schedule too cumbersome. Select the major activities. Choose what is most noticeable or meaningful to the student. How much you include will depend on what your students will understand.

(You can also make "mini-schedules" which can provide details that occur during a specific time slots or individual activities.) 


Make sure the names of the segments convey some idea about the location or overall activity from the student’s perspective. Try names like:

Schedule Time




Work Time



Make Lunch

Clean Up

Math Corner


Circle Time


Video Games

Group Time

Independent Work Time




Game Time



Seat Work

Art Table

Computer Lab

Room 16


Today At School

Mrs. Sohn’s Room

Training Trip

Some activity names are very specific (Aerobics). Others can be more generic (Work Time) where different activities may be included in that time slot on different days.

It's surprising how many classrooms glide from one activity to another without giving students specific names for what is occurring. Think about what things you do that you do not give a name, or that are called different names at different times.

Special needs for individual students can be added to the main schedule or to their individual schedules:

Take Your Pills

Bathroom           O.T.


Pick a form that is easily recognized by your students. You want them to be able to identify the items quickly and consistently. Students will benefit more from scheduling activities if recognizing the symbols is as effortless as possible.

When creating a schedule for the whole class, choose a form that will be easily interpreted by all the students. It is better to use a simpler format that everyone can understand, rather than make it more complex and miss connecting with part of the group.

Consider using:

  • written words
  • line drawings (there are many clip art programs available)
  • photographs
  • signs, logos, objects
Keep in mind that using pictures from only one source can produce problems if all your visuals start to look alike to the student. It's OK to mix things up. Also, use color to make your visuals look different from each other.
Ball Pit

Ball Pit

Visual - eat lunch
collection of visual strategies
Boardmaker pictures
Visual Schedule
McDonald's visual

It's important to label the pictures with the words that you use when referring to them. Students frequently learn to read the words when they are using the schedule pictures.  Also, it helps the communication partners (teachers, aides, parents) use consistent vocabulary when using the visuals. 

"Reading" schedule pictures is a different activity than what we would call traditional literacy activities. It is not necessary for students to be able to perform traditional reading activities before benefitting from schedule words and pictures.


Who is it for:

  • group schedule
  • individual schedule
  • both


The students should begin each day with some form of activity giving them the opportunity to create and discuss their daily schedule.

Participating in the assembly of the schedule is important. Students internalize the information better if they actively participate, rather than just looking at something prepared by another person.

What will the activity be:

  • teacher writes or assembles schedule for the class
  • student watches and discusses with teacher
  • student copies schedule with pencil & paper or types it into computer or electronic device
  • student assembles own picture schedule in holders, copying master schedule
  • student photocopies teacher schedule

How will schedule preparation be handled:

  • an individual activity
  • a group activity

REMEMBER: Having the student participate in the assembly of the schedule in some way is a critical part in helping him orient to the activities of the day. The way this activity is handled will depend on student age and ability to understand, but active participation is one of the most valuable elements of using a schedule system.

Develop a verbal routine:

Make the process of using and changing the schedule a language activity. Either the teacher or the student should talk through the change of activity.

Use a verbal script to accompany the motor routines (suggested above). “Leisure time is finished. Time for Work Stations.” This procedure helps students attend to the transition. It teaches them an organized routine that they will be able to follow to handle situations more independently.

Encourage students to actively participate in the verbal routine. Even nonverbal or limited verbal students should be a part of this. Try using a fill-in-the-blank type activity. “Leisure time is finished. Time for___ .”

Make sure students take their turn to fill in the blank with whatever means they have. Their turn might be removing the picture, a gesture or a vocalization. What is important is to produce something when it is their turn. Many students have acquired a significant functional vocabulary from the repetitive use of the verbal scripts in this activity.

Students who have more language will engage in communication beyond the simple script. Talk about what is finished and what comes next. This is a good time to discuss:

  • what will happen
  • where to go
  • what material will be needed
  • what rules to follow

The most artistic, beautiful, wonderful schedule will not achieve its potential unless it is used as an integral part of the daily routine.


  • follow it
  • if you are not going to follow it-change it
  • make it an essential part of the daily routine
  • continually refer back to it when communicating about its information
  • treat it as a valuable tool
  • allow enough time in your plans to use it effectively
  • allow it to guide the structure of your environment
  • use it as a source to stimulate conversation and language enrichment

REMEMBER: Integrating the schedule into the flow of daily activity will maximize its value.


The daily schedule is a terrific resource to help students improve their ability to communicate about their lives to other people. The schedule can serve as a tool to support communicating information to people in different environments.

  • use the schedule as a tool to support communication with others
  • take home the schedule or a copy of the schedule to communicate with family
  • use the schedule to help create a form of home-school communication

One of the most important essentials in setting up a learning environment for all students is including some form of schedule to give students information. All students can benefit, but make sure you have visual schedules for autism.

Visual Strategies for Improving Communication

Visual Strategies for Improving Communication

Learn more about using visual schedules, choice boards and other visuals supports to enhance classrooms for   students.


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  1. Linda I am a speech pathologist working with 3-5 year old I have several kiddos with a diagnosis of autism.
    My question is how effective and practical is
    PECS. I find it difficult to implement this
    System across environments.
    Some of my clients are in regular Daycare Settings I’m wondering what is the best way to involve the teacher, student and parents

    It’s also hard to maintain these books with pictures missing etc.
    whatever suggestions you have are much appreciated.
    Marcia Sulkes.
    P.S. I think we were at Ithaca College together.

    1. Hi Marcia:
      You are asking a very important question that actually has several parts to it.
      PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. It is a program that has a very specific teaching protocol. The objective in the beginning parts of PECS is to teach students how to initiate a communication request. Once students accomplish that, there are more steps in the program to build communication abilities. The program has a structured procedure and those who follow it often report student success for learning to manage the picture icons used in the program. It's important to note that the goal of PECS is to "prime the pump" for helping students to make choices and initiate communication. Many people using the official PECS program have taken a PECS training program to learn the nuances of how to implement it.

      You mentioned several problems in your queestion. Teachers without training, less structured settings and having correct, complete materials are all challenges to achieving a successful result.

      I talk a lot about using visual strategies with these students. PECS are visuals, but I suggest using pictures in a somewhat different way. It has to do with helping students understand communication better. Think about giving information. Pictures can be used to get student attention and give students information. That is often an important need in a Daycare setting. A simple schedule, a choice board showing students what their choices are and a few other visual supports can be very useful in that environment. So, one way to use visuals is to help RECEPTIVE communication and the other system is focusing more on EXPRESSIVE communication. Both are important. The two can work together. My book VISUAL STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVING COMMUNICATION explains this in more detail

      Here's a blog post that explains a bit more:

      Finally, here's a new eBook that should help you help your Daycare teachers to make their environment autism friendly.

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