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.
1. DIVIDE THE DAY INTO SEGMENTS
Identify segments that are noticeably different to the student. For example, note:
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.)
2. GIVE EACH SEGMENT A NAME
Make sure the names of the segments convey some idea about the location or overall activity from the student’s perspective. Try names like:
Independent Work Time
Today At School
Mrs. Sohn’s Room
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
3. SELECT A REPRESENTATION SYSTEM
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.
- written words
- line drawings (there are many clip art programs available)
- signs, logos, objects
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.
4. SELECT A FORMAT
Who is it for:
- group schedule
- individual schedule
5. DECIDE HOW THE STUDENTS WILL PARTICIPATE IN SCHEDULE PREPARATION AT THE BEGINNING OF THE DAY
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.
6. HOW TO USE THE SCHEDULE
- 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.
7. USE THE SCHEDULE TO COMMUNICATE WITH OTHERS
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.