Starting up the new school year is usually a daunting task for any parent, but especially those who have children with special needs. Transitions lead to anxiety. “New things” lead to uncertainty and frustration. If your child already has difficulty reading the social cues around him or predicting the plans in his environment, he’s setting himself up for a greater difficulty managing his new school days successfully.
One of the best (and simplest) ways to beat this ‘set up for a meltdown’ is to provide a visual road-map to his new surroundings, otherwise known as a visual schedule. If you are already using these at home, then you know the value of them. They help give your child the skills he needs to manage the next steps in his day, but they are also wonderful additions to the school classroom.
Also Read: Visual Schedules II
Here are a few of the many reasons why Visual Schedules are a valuable tool in your parenting or teaching toolbox:
Visual schedules help decrease a child’s anxiety about ‘what happens next’. In other words, your child will spend less energy on worry and more energy on doing other things, such as attending to the subject being taught, learning a new skill, or working on building relationships with peers.
Support Flexible Thinking Skills
Visual schedules not only provide routine, but also a place for a child to prepare for unexpected changes in that routine. For example, if there is going to be an assembly at school when the children usually have P.E., the teacher can provide this information on the visual schedule so the child will not be surprised when he goes toward the auditorium at P.E. time instead of the gym. At home, parents can use the visual schedule to help the child understand the sequence of events during a shopping day, or a change in routine if a family visit rearranges the typical schedule. Flexible thinking is an important skill for life success, so teaching it through the predictable and visual supports of visual schedules gives a safe place for learning.
Support Language Learning Skills
Most children with special needs learn better with visual supports to auditory-based information. Visual information supports the words, directions, and education presented in the classroom to increase understanding. For children whose auditory processing, language comprehension, or learning might be slower or impaired, playing to their strengths increases their ability to attend, remember, and understand information taught.
Instead of continually having to repeat what is going to happen next in the schedule, a visual schedule allows for the child to increase his own independence. He can check the schedule to prepare for what is going to happen next instead of relying on an outside person – which, in turn, gives the parent or teacher freedom to continue with her plan and not have to engage in behavior modification activities to calm a frustrated child.
The benefits of visual schedules is well-documented in research and these are only a few of their positive outcomes. For more information on visual schedules, check out the links below.
Parent friendly definition: iidc.indiana.edu
Quick reference sheet on developing a visual schedule: cheekwood.org (PDF)
Great resource for educators: AutismPDC.fpg.unc.edu (PDF)
At Carolina Pediatric Therapy our expertise and experience benefit not only the child being treated, but their family as well. We strive for excellence in all forms of pediatric therapy and family support. If you have concerns or questions about your child or the services we offer, call us today at 828.670.8056.
Visual Schedules – Part 1
Pepper Basham, MS, CCC-SLP