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How to Teach Students to Use Visual Schedules

If you’ve been with us long enough, you know how we feel about visuals, and visual schedules. They are in important part of teaching new skills and for promoting independence.

Using a visual schedule helps to provide predictability and routine in lots of situations. Teaching a child to follow a visual schedule is a skill that will benefit him in school, at home, and in many other places.

How can we teach a child to follow a visual schedule?

Start with a Basic “First/Then” Schedule

One of the first skills we work on with students is the “first/then contingency.” Have the child engage in a less preferred activity in order to access a more preferred activity. This could be as simple as “First dinner, then computer time”. Using a visual like a “First/then board” provides a small visual schedule for the student to know what to expect.

Tip: We love recommending as app life “Choiceworks” for creating easy, individualized visual schedules!

Choiceworks visual schedule

Make it Doable and Not Overwhelming

As the child can tolerate more than one activity at a time, you’re going to begin extending the visual schedule. However, it’s important to remember not to make the schedule too overwhelming. For some students, seeing their entire day on a visual schedule is too much for them to process. In many cases, it’s better to chunk the day or the session into smaller time periods – for example, a visual schedule until lunch and then another one until the end of the day.

Intersperse Preferred Activities with Less Preferred

Don’t only incorporate work tasks into the visual schedule. How would you feel if someone presented you with 10 difficult, non-preferred activities in a row? It’s a good idea to intersperse more preferred tasks with less preferred tasks. If you know that your student has a few “work” tasks in a row, put a more preferred activity into the schedule to break it up.

Reinforce Independence

Following a visual schedule is an important skill in teaching independence. Use a visual schedule when teaching skills like Independent Activity Schedules, chores, or other independent work tasks. Remember to include reinforcement for following the schedule independently (i.e., without prompting throughout). If a child needs support or prompting, it should be a non-verbal prompt and ideally, from behind.  Do your best NOT to embed yourself in the teaching.  This will help them in learning life skills and job readiness skills.


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