Today I want to talk about visual schedules. I had heard that children with autism liked having routines and knowing what to expect. Ruby had always been a go with the flow kind of kid and didn’t really have melt downs when things were different or changed unexpectedly so I didn’t put much importance on creating one for her. Once I saw how well she responded to the PECS system (a picture communication system) and to using pictures cards in speech therapy, I decided to give it a try. Of course you can buy them online, but it was much cheaper to make one, and even better I could individualize it for her schedule.
When I was making it, I only put 7 Velcro spots on the board because I thought it could be overwhelming for Ruby to see 20 things up there. In her classroom now, they just have one long Velcro strip and can put up as many pictures as they want, which is a good option too so as she grows I could add more. I just put Velcro on the back of each one and have a tub for the rest put away in a cupboard.
What’s nice about making my own is I can pick what pictures go on. The picture of the pull up was the exact kind she wore, which helped to make it more concrete for her. I also had pictures of families members and a caption next to it, “going to see Grandma”. I wrote words by each of the pictures so Ruby would be able to see pictures and hopefully associate words with them. I would take one off of the schedule and point to each words and say “change pull up”, and take her finger and do the same.
She absolutely loved the pictures! It really helped her to know what was happening, and really helped her to be more on board with brushing her teeth, or changing her pull up. With the pictures she was more of a partner in her schedule than just a follower. Anything I can do to empower her is a good thing!
Another amazing thing happened when I started using this system. She would take one and point to all the words individually and say each word. For a child that could only say one word at a time, this was amazing! I also saw an increase in her ability to put two or three words together.
With the visual schedule I saw that there was potential for two way communication. I could tell Ruby what we needed to do next, and she could tell me what she wanted next. Here is one, “get backpack”. Of course you could make these in to full sentences too. I wanted to start off simple, but I think it’s time to start adding more words to help her with her sentence structure. I will give this to her to let her know what I need her to do next.
Another great thing about this is she can get a picture and give it to me to let me know what she wants. Here is one, “drink”. She can let me know she needs a drink without having to try to speak, which can be frustrating for her and often she just won’t try. Any form of communication is amazing and fostering that helps her to want to use more, even verbal communication.
I also have ones like “play with toys” and “pee pee on the potty”. I actually made duplicates of some so I could have it on the schedule multiple times, which is helpful during potty training.
Ruby loves to look at them took, say the words, and see all the possibilities. She is such a visual person that this really struck a cord with her. It was almost like she was saying, finally you are speaking my language! The great thing about this is it is pretty easy to make, not very expensive, and worth a try. If it doesn’t work out you’re not worse off, but have learned more about what does and doesn’t work for your child.
My son Brandon, who is developing typically, loves this visual schedule too! And honestly, was more on board with doing things I needed him to do if the schedule said that he needed to do it. It was even better when he could choose some pictures to put up there as well.
Looking back at Ruby’s go with the flow attitude, I realize now that she was in her own little world and didn’t really notice that much going on around her. She was pretty happy most of the time, but not actively engaged in shaping her schedule. Once I started this, I began to realize that she did want to play more active role, but just didn’t have the tools to do it. These pictures gave her power.