Everyone says children benefit from using a visual schedule, that it provides them with structure and routine. But if you’ve never used one before you might be wondering how to make a visual schedule for your home.

Where do you even start?

Benefits of a Daily Routine and a Visual Schedule

It’s pretty simple – children need structure in order to thrive. One of the easiest ways to add structure to their life is by creating and following a daily schedule. 
Visual schedules are beneficial for all children. But, they can be particularly helpful for children with Autism and ADHD.

Some benefits of visual schedules include:
  • Easily understood, even by children who can’t yet read or who are nonverbal.
  • Reduces anxiety.  Not knowing “what’s next” is often a source of anxiety for kids. Even if their routine is consistent they may still worry about this. With a visual schedule, they can easily look to see what to expect next.
  • Helps stablish healthy, constructive habits – such as personal hygiene, and completing chores and homework daily.
  • Provides stability – uncertainty may cause major stress for kids with Autism. This usually stems from not having a full understanding of how the world works.
  • Encourages independence so kids don’t need continuous prompting.
  • Helps with the development of some executive functioning skills, such as time management and organization.


A Good Visual Schedule Will:

  • Depict the activities that will occur, and in what sequence
  • Show transitions within the day (like changing activities or environments)
  • Promote independence
  • Can be created for the whole day, or broken up into chunks. For example, you could have a morning routine, an after-school routine, and a bed-time routine.


How to Plan Your Daily Routine

Before making the actual visual schedule itself you need to first plan what your daily routine and the kids’ daily routine will look like.

Most likely some parts of your daily routine are already established, like dinner time and bedtime. But if you have a lot of gaps in your day that are chaotic or have no apparent plan then it can be hard to decide what you want to do with that time.

It’s a good idea to list a few habits that you’d like the family to adopt as part of their day, for example, everyone clearing their dishes from the dinner table each day. Then you can start planning those habits into your day.


Creating Your Daily Routine & Visual Schedule Step-By-Step

  1. Write down what already happens every day:  The best way is to begin by writing down your schedule starting with what already happens every day and at approximately that time. These should be things such as waking up, eating breakfast, leaving for school, eating dinner, bathtime, bedtime, etc.
  2. Fill in the gaps:  Fill in the gaps by deciding on more structured activities for your child for specific times. Instead of telling them to “go play” you can add activities like – outdoor play, fine motor play (crafts, drawing, cutting, beading, etc), quiet time, etc.  It doesn’t have to be a specific activity that they do every day because that can get very boring. But, for example, if you designate 3 pm-4 pm for craft time, then you plan different tasks each day or a week at a time.
  3. Structure the environment:  Set up specific areas in your home where each of these activities will happen and get any supplies you need. For example, set up your craft table, get a bin and fill it with homework supplies and set up a homework station. Build a calm down space and anything else you want to create.
  4. Decide how to initiate transitions:  Decide how you will transition in between activities on the schedule – will you use a timer? A verbal cue? A sound warning? A song?  Each activity needs a clear start and finish. This helps children know when it’s time to move on. Plus, this transition cue should be consistent between every activity.
  5. Create the schedule visually:  There are many different ways to do this. You can also make this yourself – draw it by hand or create it by finding your own images online and printing them.  Whatever you choose, make sure the visuals are clear for your child to understand and that everything is concise and consistent.
  6. Display your schedule:  Place the visual schedule in a central location in your home, such as the fridge, or in the family room. Ensure it’s in a location that makes it easy for yourself and kids to check the schedule. In the beginning, you will probably need to remind your kids of the schedule all the time.
  7. Teach your child to follow the schedule:  It’s not enough to make it and hang it up on your fridge – you need to actually teach your child the routine. This is the most important part. This can take time and may require a lot of prompts and reminders in the beginning.  You can’t deviate from the schedule once it’s set – your visual schedule is like a contract between you and your child.

Visuals for Your Schedule

You’ll need to find visuals to use with your schedule that are easy for your child to understand.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Visual Schedules from Living Well with Autism for Self Care
  • Editable Bundle of Visual Schedule Cards from Natural Beach Living
  • Google images online
  • Take pictures of your child doing the tasks
  • Do2Learn has an inventory of starter schedules, visual cards, pictures and templates

Tips for Sticking to Your Schedule

  • Make sure your child’s schedule is compatible with your schedule so that it will be easy for both you and your child to stick to the daily schedule. 
  • Ideally, the schedule should include a combination of both structured and unstructured activities. Children should have a combination of both.  Include time where they should play independently, for example, a quiet time each afternoon.
  • You don’t have to have the whole day on a single schedule. You can split it up and have a morning schedule and an afternoon schedule if that works better for your family.
  • If your child struggles to follow the displayed routine, make a copy for them as a checklist, laminate it, and have them actually carry it with them around the house and check off the items with a dry erase marker. 
  • If your child has extracurricular activities or appointments that change frequently you can make the schedule with velcro on the visuals so they can be moved around every day.  If the schedule changes a lot, go over it with your child the night before and again in the morning.
  • Make adjustments when needed. Your schedule won’t stay the same as the seasons change, your child gets older, during school breaks, etc.  It’s okay to make adjustments when they need to happen but try to keep a regular consistently routine over time.
  • If you’re struggling to keep your child motivated in following the daily routine, try using a routine app for your child’s tablet to make it a little more fun for them.  Here are a few apps to consider.

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