Does this sound familiar? You are trying to get your child out the door to school or for an appointment and they can’t seem to accomplish the smallest tasks. They are easily distracted and moving as slow as molasses. You give reminder after reminder, but they seem to go in one ear and out the other. It’s the same scene every morning. You are becoming more and more agitated until finally, you explode. You feel guilty as your child leaves for school once again feeling deflated.
Your child can’t move from one activity to another or one location to another without having a meltdown. You try to remember to give them a “five minute warning”, but sometimes there just isn’t time. Sometimes, even with the warning, they still don’t seem to be able to make the transition.
You find yourself once again dealing with a meltdown.
The teacher calls again. Your child came out of the bathroom at school with their pants down around their ankles. Again. At home, they always forget to flush the toilet or leave the water running after they wash their hands…when they remember to wash their hands at all. You know that your child is doing their best.
You wish you could help them gain more independence.
Why use visual schedules?
Visual schedules carry many benefits, particularly for children who have special needs. Visual schedules:
- break down tasks into easy-to-complete steps
- provide structure
- create predictability
- teach independence
- improve focus and attention
- help with time management
- instill consistency
- form healthy habits
- reduce cognitive load
- maintain daily routines
- establish a schedule that works
- ease transitions
- prevent meltdowns
- promote positive choices
- decrease problem behaviours
- provide helpful reminders
Visual schedules are especially beneficial for children on the autism spectrum, children with FASD, ADHD, sensory issues or SPD, RAD, or other special needs. They can be an invaluable tool. Many parents report that they have been a “game changer” in their household.
I created the Printable Visual Schedule for Special Needs because I couldn’t find a visual schedule that included what I was looking for to use with my own kids. I wanted something that parents could use with visual and written prompts that kids could easily understand. It is in both colour and black and white. The black and white cards are great for having kids colour themselves. This gives them another reenforcement and reminder.
How to use visual schedules:
The best way to use visual schedules to benefit your child depends on your child and on what you are hoping to accomplish.
If your child is experiencing a lot of meltdowns during transition times, you will want to start with cards that help them predict upcoming changes throughout their day to help them predict what’s coming next.
If your child is struggling to get out the door in the morning, you’ll want to start with cementing a morning routine that works for them.
Or if your child is struggling most with breaking things down into smaller tasks, that will be where you want to start.
Create a morning routine chart.
You can do this in many ways. Choose which of the methods below you feel would work best for your child. You can always try multiple methods to find the best fit.
- Place velcro dots on a poster board and hang the poster in their bedroom. Attach an open envelope to the bottom of the poster. Place velcro dots on the back of the visual schedule cards and place them on the poster in the order your child should complete their morning routine. As they complete the tasks, they can add the card into the envelope.
- Hole punch the cards that your child needs to complete each morning. Place them on a binder ring and give it to your child as a visual reminder they can carry with them as they complete each step.
- Affix magnets to the back of the cards. This works best if the cards are laminated. Set up an area on the side of the fridge or on a magnetic white board in the kitchen where your child can see their cues and move them down as they complete each one.
- Give your child a folder or binder that contains the cards needed for their morning routine. These can be glued down on a page in the binder with the heading “Morning” or you can add velcro dots to the page and to the backs of the cards and glue an envelope to the inside of the binder for easy storage of the cards.
- Hang a ribbon or string in your child’s room. Use clothespins to attach their visual prompts in the order they need to be completed. Provide a small bucket or envelope that your child can put the cards into once they’ve finished each one.
Create a daily schedule.
- Make a poster for your child that displays their daily schedule. See the method for making the poster above.
- Create a visual representation of your child’s day on the side of the fridge using magnets on the back of the cards.
- Make your child a binder separated into Morning, Afternoon and Evening to further simplify things.
- Another way of creating a daily schedule is by using a pocket chart. You can add the cards needed for that day at the top of the chart in the order they will happen and store the rest of the cards either at the bottom or in a separate envelope that you can staple near the bottom of the pocket chart.
For some children, the chart can be very general, including only the highlights of the day, whereas for others, you will need to break down each thing into smaller tasks.
I don’t recommend using binder rings for an entire daily schedule as it can be too overwhelming for a child.
Break down tasks.
Some of the cards break tasks down for kids to enable them to complete them step by step. These cards work well in these ways:
- Hole punch the cards and attach them to a binder ring. This way, the child can carry it with them. This is particularly good for the bathroom prompts. They can flip through the cards as they complete each step.
- Use poster putty or teacher’s tape to attach cards to the bathroom wall or mirror for the bathroom cards and the step by step instructions for hand washing.
- Attach the cards to the back of your child’s bedroom door or the wall in the entryway for reminders such as putting on their shoes and coat or taking their lunch.
For school and appointments:
- When I created this visual schedule, I purposely left some of the cards such as those for Speech, Occupational Therapist, Therapist, etc. without an image. This was so that the child or parents could add a picture of the building or actual therapist to the card. For some children, especially those with autism, it helps to have things as concrete and specific as possible. Seeing the actual building or person they have an appointment with helps create security and aids in the transition.
- Children can use the pocket chart, binder, or binder ring method to use their visual schedule as their prompts while at school.
For a short time only, the Visual Schedule for Special Needs is included in the Sensory Essentials Collection which included many other resources for helping kids thrive.