Daily Schedules for Students on the Autism Spectrum
Do all children on the autism spectrum need to use a daily schedule? This question pops up frequently for a variety of reasons. Let’s look at typical comments on this topic. I will then give my best advice based on my own experiences
- Making and maintaining a schedule is time consuming. My student keeps me very busy and I have better things to do with my time.
- My student is easily directed and doesn’t need a schedule. I just show him what to do.
- I can’t get my student to use her schedule.
- My student has learned to follow his peers.
- Using a schedule makes my student look different from her peers.
- My student has the schedule memorized after the first week at school and doesn’t need to use a visual or written schedule anymore.
- My student had a schedule and is now doing so well that she doesn’t need it anymore.
Making and maintaining a schedule is time consuming. My student keeps me very busy and I have better things to do with my time.
First off, I won’t deny that setting up a schedule can be time consuming and if a schedule is truly not needed, we all have better things to do with our time. However, I personally think that almost every student with an Autism Spectrum Disorder can benefit in many ways from using a personalized Daily Schedule. It is worth every bit of time we invest in creating an individualized schedule, teaching a child to use the schedule and keeping the schedule up to date with the day’s events. The payoffs are immense.
What are the payoffs?
- Independence- Wonderful schedules uniquely suited for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have been developed by the T.E.A.C.C.H. Division at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. ST-AT classes taught at Great Prairie AEA in Iowa teach modified versions based on a similar format. Other agencies or training centers around the country most likely will be able to provide you with extra information on this model when you inquire. If you use these types of personalized interactive schedules, you will have an excellent tool for promoting independence in the child with autism. The use of a transition cue is the key element that allows the child to use the schedule independently. The transition cue simply directs the student to return to his/her schedule without outside prompting. This visual cue is often embedded at the end of the previously finished task or work system. The student uses the transition cue to move forward on the schedule without becoming prompt dependent. Most typically developing children strive towards independence as they grow. In contrast many children on the Autism Spectrum strive to keep things the same. If they always have help navigating the demands of their day, they may want to keep that help in place long after it is really needed. If they don’t learn independence early, this need to keep things the same may lead to learned helplessness. Teaching an individual to use a well developed, customized schedule is actually teaching a life long skill of independence.
can watch how a transition cue imbedded in the work system cues the student to check her schedule without
prompting. More specific help on creating a personalized daily schedule will be a topic on future posts.
- Stress Reduction- Knowing that a schedule is readily at hand is a great stress reliever. Students with ASD tend to feel most relaxed when they can keep events in their lives the same from day to day. This is the reason that so many children quickly memorize their daily routines. Predictability is important to them. Especially when children are young, parents and teachers are often bombarded by repetitive questions about what will be happening in the future. When we have answered the same question multiple times or turned the question back around for the child to answer for himself, the questions often keep coming. When a student has a visual schedule for personal reference, it usually relieves much of this anxiety because the answer is visual and concrete for easy processing, even under stress. If it is in the schedule, it must be so. That is the rule that children need to be able to rely upon. It is our job to make sure the schedule that the child uses is, in fact, reliable.
- Flexible Thinking- Referring back to #2 Stress Reduction, I’m sure that everyone has already formed the comment that the events in a person’s daily routine do not remain consistent from day to day- even from hour to hour. Stress and anxiety come when individuals cannot rely on the routine that they have established in their heads. “But I always go to computer after reading!” Instead of relying on a set of memorized routines, we can teach individuals to rely on their schedules. The schedule is the student’s anchor. The routine that never changes is the routine of using the schedule. Within the schedule, incorporate changes that inevitably happen in real life. It is often beneficial to enlist the individual’s help in making the changes to the schedule. The changes can be highlighted which allows the individual time to prepare for the change coming. Right from the beginning with the simplest of schedules, I deliberately built in small changes in routines each week. Students learned to understand that changes happen in the routine and that is okay if the schedule itself can be relied upon to keep them informed and on track. Schedules help teach the difficult skill of flexible thinking within the reliable structure that most individuals with ASD seek