Assisting with Executive Functioning Tasks: Visual Schedules (page 3)
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.
Timers, especially if they are visual, make the abstract concept of elapsed time more concrete and quickly answer the common questions that cause confusion and anxiety in many students such as, ''How much time is left of writing?'' and ''How much longer until recess?'' ''How many minutes until I can go home and see my mom?'' (Figure 7.11). A variety of visual timers are available at www.timetimer.com, including an overhead timer that can be used with a large group, several sizes of individual timers, and a watch. Simple kitchen egg timers that count up or down can be used (but beware of their tendency to become a triggering antecedent; their ticking can stress some students). Sand timers and a simple stopwatch on a student's desk are also options.
Although transition objects (for example, stuffed animals, music, and sensory objects such as fans or things that light up) are not really visual supports, they are important to the topic of transitions. These highly preferred objects are especially helpful when students are required to make the transition from more preferred to less preferred activities such as from recess to the classroom or from the classroom to the bus. Students can carry their preferred objects with them during transitions to make the transition more reinforcing and distract the student from the not-so-reinforcing task that is coming next. The choice of what object to use is student specific.
A Final Word About Visual Supports
Many students with language challenges become very good at faking it (that is, acting as if they understand you when they really don't) and therefore teachers underestimate the need for and value of language support. Numerous variables affect verbal communication, so a student who understands or expresses herself clearly in one situation may not be able to do so in a different situation. There are unlimited ways that visual supports can be embedded throughout a student's school day. Always consider ways to make verbal communication visual. Excellent resources for using visual supports in a variety of areas and for a variety of skills that may affect behavior are Solving Behavior Problems in Autism: Improving Communication with Visual Strategies by Linda A. Hodgdon and Making Visual Supports Work in the Home and Community: Strategies for Individuals with Autism and Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer L. Savner and Brenda Smith Myles.
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