Back to School: Autism and the Benefits of Visual Schedules

School has now started and children are adjusting to their new classrooms and new classroom routines for the past few weeks. This is an exciting and challenging time for all children. It may be particularly challenging for children on the autism spectrum. The American Autism Society reminds us:

“Transitions are often difficult for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. People with ASD usually rely on routines in order to better navigate social situations, and a sudden schedule or lifestyle change, such as beginning school … , can be very disruptive and discomforting. That said, preparatory activities can reduce the stress of transitions, resulting in confidence and comfort during these difficult phases.”

The use of visual schedules helps the children with ASD establish a school and home routine. It also provides a visual point of reference that helps guide and reassure the child throughout the day. Visual schedules help facilitate social interactions by decreasing potential stressful situations for the child with ASD and decreasing or eliminating melt downs altogether.

According to National Autism Resources, creating a visual schedule helps children with autism transition throughout their day. They offer the following tips for creating a visual schedule for your child.

“A schedule can be a written list of activities the student will participate in during the day, a sequence of pictures or both. Schedules help a student to prepare for the transition by allowing them to see the upcoming activity and understand the sequence of activities that will occur. Research has shown that consistently using schedules increases independence, decreases transition time and melt downs.”

Using these and similar guidelines, families can create their children’s visual schedules themselves. These can be adapted to both home and school settings according to each child’s particular needs . They help manage transitions and stress levels across settings.

Visual schedules help the child with ASD manage his or her day and decrease stress, frustration and potential melt downs. This helps decrease stress for the whole family. According to Roa and Gagie (2006), adults should guide children with ASD to use visual schedules because

“They are part of everyone’s communication system , they can attract and hold a student’s attention, they enable the student to focus on the message and reduce anxiety, they make abstract concepts more concrete for the student, they help the student express his or her thoughts and they help all students.”

There are several resources to help you create your own visual schedule to meet your child’s needs. Readers  will find a list of sample visual schedules to get started at:

Autism Daily Newscast reported earlier this month on sharing information about the school day and the challenges of  Sensory Processing Disorder in going back to school.