Guiding Through the Day: Schedules
We know that transitions and schedule changes are difficult for
children on the autism spectrum, children with intellectual disabilities and executive functioning challenges. Heightened anxiety reduces the child's
ability to gain meaning from his or her environment and to benefit from
instruction to the fullest extent possible.
Children whose schedules and systems are not properly
designed often depend on adults to help make sense of their worlds. It is
nearly impossible to build independence in a child with autism without
the use of a schedule.
Used artfully, schedules can be very
effective as a proactive tool to prevent negative behaviors and to get
the child back on track once a negative behavior has occurred. By
alternating high and low preference activities, for example, the child
is more likely to comply with the low preference activity knowing that
there is something special at the end of the "chore."
Schedules can be used to teach flexibility. Children with autism should not be allowed to memorize the schedule. They should rely on the schedule for information and not their memories. When children begin to show signs of memorization, or rigidity with the schedule when changes occur ("No! Computer next!") it is a good sign that things need to be mixed up a little. Change the order of some of the activities on a regular basis. When a change is to occur, rather than quickly redoing the schedule with the events that will actually happen, use "skip" or "add" sticky arrows (like the ones that say "Sign Here," only blank) or icons (universal no, question mark "something different" icon) to indicate the change. This will help build the understanding that things change. Make intentional changes of small things, such as skipping a low-preference item or adding a high preference item, to start to build flexibility.Each person has different needs that can be addressed using the schedule. Thus, each schedule should be individually designed with the characteristics of the person in mind. Among other things, experienced schedule designers consider the number of items the child can handle seeing at one time, whether or not the child could become overstimulated or anxious upon seeing certain items on the schedule in advance, whether the child needs to know about the whole day or the end of the day, what might motivate the child to use the schedule, how flexible the child is, and what the best way to show completion might be.
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