New places, new routines, and new experiences are an inevitable part of life. For some kids, “new” is exciting, but for others “new” means scary and overwhelming. An invaluable resource for helping individuals navigate new experiences is the visual schedule.

During therapy sessions, visual schedules are used to help kids process through multi-step activities or know what to expect for the day. These can also be incorporated into daily routines with the home and school environments!

What is a Visual Schedule?

A visual schedule is a series of step-by-step instructions presented in words and/or pictures for the child to see and follow along with.  It can be used to break down the steps for 1 activity (washing hands), a daily routine (getting ready for bed), or a full day’s schedule. Let’s take a quick look at how a visual schedule can be a useful tool in each of these scenarios.

Ease Transitions with Visual Schedules

One Activity

This type of visual tool is most useful for kids who have difficulty with executive functioning skills such as sequencing, planning, and memory. Provide one visual instruction for each step of the activity. If seeing all of the steps is still too overwhelming, present one picture at a time while keeping the others covered up. Example for hand washing:

Ease Transitions with Visual Schedules

Daily Routine

This type of visual is also useful for kids who have difficulty with executive functioning skills and maintaining attention. The tool provides a clear visual that decreases the need to pause and think about what’s next. For example, a bedtime routine may include brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, climbing into bed, reading one book, kissing mom/dad goodnight, then turning off the lights. This can be a long process with a lot of opportunity for distraction along the way. See below for a visual to help guide the process.

Ease Transitions with Visual Schedules

Full Schedule

This type of visual is most beneficial for kids who have difficulty with change, and present with anxiety related to unexpected events. A visual schedule provides a clear list of the day’s activities so the child sees what is coming next. Depending on your child’s learning style, you can use pictures or a written list. Once an activity has been completed, the item can be crossed off, removed, or erased.

Ease Transitions with Visual Schedules

How can I make this from home?

  • Choiceworks app
  • Laminate pictures to use over and over; can add velcro to the back for interchangeable pictures
  • Write or draw on a whiteboard
  • Write or draw on a piece of paper

Written by Nicole Dorow, MOT, OTR/L