Assisting with Executive Functioning Tasks: Visual Schedules
Visual schedules create a picture of the order of events or activities.7 We often use these to assist in teaching time management to students. These schedules help students anticipate and plan their day by allowing them to view the order of activities and what they should prepare for next. If there is a change in schedule due to school assemblies or special school parties, this can be included in a visual schedule to help students mentally prepare for the change.
The format of visual schedules can vary greatly. Younger children may benefit from picture schedules that use icons, drawings, or photos that are removed when certain portions of their day are finished and these types of visual schedules tend to be the ones that come to mind. Older students can also benefit from written visual schedules that they can check or cross off. Figures 7.8 and 7.9 respectively provide examples of an icon and a written visual schedule.
Many individuals with behavioral challenges have difficulty with transitions. This may be due to difficulty tracking time, accepting change, ending a more preferred activity to start a less preferred one, sensory issues or the lack of structure that often accompanies transition, or a combination of all of these. Transition helpers support students by providing structure and predictability, in addition to giving them all the information about what is going to happen and time to process it and become cognitively and emotionally ready to handle the change. The three transition helpers we most commonly use are five-minute countdowns, timers, and transition objects.
We recommend giving students at least a five-minute warning before a transition and counting down to provide multiple reminders that the transition is coming. It is not important to do this according to the minute; the idea is to let them know that the time is getting close and they need to finish up what they are doing and prepare for the next activity. This can be done verbally, by holding up fingers, or with a visual countdown strip with numbers that can be crossed out or removed (Figure 7.10). Reproducible 4 provides multiple countdown strips.
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