Visual Schedules: How and Why to Use Them in the Classroom (page 3)

By — Autism Society
Updated on Jul 28, 2009

4. Location of the schedule

When initially teaching a student how to use a schedule, staff may decide to bring the schedule information to the student. As students become familiar with the schedule, and understand where to go, schedules may be posted in a central location in the classroom, such as a table, shelf, wall or desk. When it is time to transition, students can go to this central and neutral location (a “transition area”) to get their schedule information. Or if students are independent in their schedule usage, they may begin to carry a portable schedule with them from activity to activity. The visual schedule may be placed in a binder or on a clipboard that students carry with them throughout the day.

5. Initiating use of the schedule

Finally, staff need to determine how a student will know when it is time to check his schedule. Initially, staff may bring schedule information to the student at the culmination of an activity; however, most students eventually will go to a transition area when cued. Visual cues often are most effective to signal to students that a transition is occurring and that information about an upcoming activity can be found on their schedules. Staff may decide to use a card with the student’s name on it or a favorite picture as the cue. When students are given this cue, they may carry it to their schedule, place it in a matching pocket or container and refer to the next activity on the schedule. Using this cue consistently is an excellent tool in helping students know when to transition and when to remain in an activity or location. The use of a visual cue also reduces dependency on adult prompts during transitions.

What Do I Do Next?

After matching the design of the visual schedule to the student’s strengths and needs, and making all of the schedule materials, staff then need to begin to teach the student how to use the schedule. Students must be explicitly taught how to manipulate the materials, where the designated locations are, and how and when to transition throughout the day. When teaching a student to use the schedule, it is most effective to minimize adult-delivered prompts (Green, 2001). The teacher should prompt the student from behind so the schedule materials are in the student’s visual field and plan to fade the prompts as quickly as possible. Only relevant language should be used, identifying the location where the student is going (i.e., “play area” instead of, “Come on, Steve, we’re going over to the play area. I think you are going to love it.”). This promotes student independence, as a primary goal of schedule use is independent movement throughout the classroom and school building when appropriate. O nce a student has mastered independent usage of the visual schedule, staff can decide how to continue to improve the student’s skills. Staff may decide to change the form of the schedule from pictures to words, if the student has become a fluent reader, or to increase the length of the schedule from part-day to full-day. It is important for everyone to remember, however, that a more complex visual schedule is not necessarily “better.” The goal is independent usage, so the types and forms of schedules used may vary widely in one classroom. Staff should make sure to have back-up schedules available so that students continue to attend classes on-time— a tip I will need to pass on to my colleague when she makes her next calendar purchase.

About the Author

Kara Hume, Ph.D., is a former classroom teacher for students on the spectrum and is an adjunct professor at Indiana University.


Cox, R., & Boswell, S. (1999). Checklist for the individualization of visual schedules. TEACCH Level 1 Seminar.

Garretson, H., Fein, D., & Waterhouse, L. (1990). Sustained attention in children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 101-114.

Green, G. (2001). Behavior analytic instruction for learners with autism: Advances in stimulus control technology. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 16, 72-85.

Mesibov, G., Shea, V., & Schopler, E. (2005). The TEACCH approach to autism spectrum disorders. New York: Plenum Press.

Quill, K. (1997). Instructional considerations for young children with autism: The rationale for visually cued instruction. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27, 697-714. The Picture Communication Symbols© 1981, 2005 by Mayer Johnson, LLC. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Used with permission. Credit to Division TEACCH for several photos.

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