How to use visual schedules to reduce challenging behaviour

Visual schedules can help an autistic child be less anxious. They present daily activities, as well as the sequence in which these activities will unfold. A high level of predictability brings comfort and will even reduce challenging behaviour. 

Depending on the child’s developmental level, the schedule can be made with photographs, drawings or pictures. Sometimes they can have written words or actual objects. The schedule can be displayed on a wall or on paper. For children who go to school, the schedule can be placed inside a notebook. 

Also, parents can add a todo list to each activity. This shows all of the steps the child needs to take in order for a specific task to be completed. 

Are visual schedules effective at reducing challenging behaviour in autistic children?

Yes. According to a study published on solutions to decrease challenging behaviour, the use of activity schedules can help children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. 

The study showed that visual schedules worked for children with difficulty following rules. The authors point out that visual schedules promote self-regulation and independence.

The introduction of a visual schedule is particularly important when it comes to children who have academic demands to meet. These children sometimes have difficulties meeting these demands, and this is where the challenging behaviour commonly occurs. The visual schedule can reduce the stress experienced by parents as well as promote learning and cooperation in children. 

Example of a visual schedule on the wall of a classroom.
autism aba therapy lindsey malc side by side therapy visual schedule

Why should you consider visual scheduling? 

Visual schedules offer the perfect opportunity to teach an autistic child to complete the required activities in a day. Thanks to the todo list, you can break down a task into smaller steps, which are easier to complete. Small steps are easily achieved and provide opportunities for more frequent reinforcement.

Visual schedules offer to the child one of the things they look for the most: predictability. As they will learn to use the schedule, they will often become less anxious. Moreover, by using prompts and reinforcement, as you have been taught by your Board Certified Behaviour Analyst, you can decrease resistance and escape maintained behaviours. 

In simple terms, you can see the visual schedules as a constant reminder for your child. They will know exactly which activities to complete every day and where they will occur. Most importantly, they will know the order in which things will happen. . 

How to use visual schedules to improve your child’s behaviour 

As with any new intervention, you should expect for the child to resist the introduction of a schedule. Practice together, using plenty of praise and reinforcement.

Be patient and give your child the time they need to become comfortable with using the schedule. Keep in mind that some time might pass before they accept the visual prompt, following the routine as expected. At first, offer schedule check reminders frequently.

In time, and after plenty of practice, the child will indeed turn to the schedule, enjoying its predictability. The interesting thing is that, by predicting and in turn enjoying the activities you have included on the schedule, your little one will have fewer opportunities to misbehave. 

Be sure to acknowledge the efforts the child is making in following the schedule. Use simple phrases like “good job checking your schedule” or “nice work keeping up with the to do list”. You can give your child thumbs up, offer a smile or offer a hug. What matters is that you recognize they are trying, celebrating even the smallest achievement together.

You can try adding a preferred activity at the end of the schedule alternatively, so that he/she will understand that he/she can engage in that activity once everything else has been completed. Offer options to children who are able to choose; if your child has trouble making choices, select an activity you already know he/she enjoys. 

Will visual schedules bring a difference to our daily routine?

Once again, the answer is yes. The child will learn to follow a simple schedule, becoming more organized as a result. He/she will thrive from knowing what lays ahead, no longer feeling confused. The familiar routine presented through visual aids will genuinely reduce the level of anxiety your child feels.

Using visual schedules will help your child make transitions between activities as well as between tasks within an activity. By using the todo list, and presenting the child with the exact steps to follow for an activity, you will reduce the risk of inattention and/or misbehaviour.

Using a visual schedule will give your autistic child a better chance to succeed. Challenging behaviour meets an unmet need that your child is experiencing. Challenging behaviour can be attributed to one of the 4 functions of behaviour.

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