Using a visual schedule
30 Sep 2020
by The Autism Service

We all need structure in our life. A regular routine helps us plan each day, feel comfortable with what we are doing and keeps us within our comfort zone. This is particularly true of children who have additional needs.

They really do respond positively to having structure. It helps them organise and predict what will be happening each day of every week and this process is helped considerably by the use of visual aids.

What is a visual schedule?

A visual schedule uses pictures and symbols to show what activities will be happening in order. It’s easy to understand and gives reassurance to a child in knowing exactly what the plan is for the coming days. 

It’s a situation they will feel comfortable with and forward planning helps reduce anxiety levels of children with autism and/or learning disabilities. Feeling anxious makes it more difficult to understand and absorb verbal information so having things presented in a simple visual format makes things much easier for them.  

Visual schedules will help children see what’s coming up and what they need to be doing - it’s a predictable order to their day and the visual schedule will provide a detailed path to follow. It explains what to expect and when to expect it, which in itself drastically reduces anxiety.

How to use a visual schedule

Provide pictures or written visual schedules to map out the day’s or week’s activities. It can also be used to log and track simple activities like brushing your teeth, mealtimes or getting ready for bed.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) can be used to help you create your visual schedule - your child may be using this system already at school, which will provide the reassurance of familiarity. 

These can be downloaded from several online sites, such as It’s also a good idea to use photographs of places you regularly visit with your child to help them feel comfortable with what you are trying to achieve. 

In normal circumstances, visual schedules are an ideal solution for planning a weekend’s activities or school holidays but we are living through unprecedented times with the coronavirus crisis.

We are coming to the end of the first month of our schools being open once again. Many children will be adapting to new routines and added restrictions at school and a visual schedule can prove to be of significant benefit in their daily lives.

All the current uncertainty and concerns about the spread of the virus and the effect it will have can also heighten the potential for anxiety which is easily picked up by our children.

Explaining the situation as clearly and calmly as you can in offering reassurance, and setting up visual schedules will help children cope with daily routines and help you feel that you are doing all you can to provide the guidance and support they need.