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Thinking Inside the Box (Part 2): The Schedule

Submitted by on 03/15/2009 – 11:17 pmNo Comment

Visual schedules allow students with autism to transition and complete multi-step tasks without assistance. As students gain independence in using a schedule system they are better able to enter general education settings. For the beginning learner schedules are very concrete, placed in a fixed location, and provide visual cues throughout transitions. As students become more advanced, these schedules are replaced by portable, text-based schedules and checklists similar to those used by many people to keep organized.  

Transition: There are several approaches to establishing schedules for children with autism. One approach provides a verbal prompt for the student to go check the schedule. The student removes the card from the schedule and then places it in a container at the bottom or side of the schedule and then proceeds to the next activity. While this approach may be adequate for a more advanced student, the purpose of the schedule is to remind students where they are going throughout the transition process without adult assistance. Verbally instructing students to” go check the schedule” may require additional adult prompts to get them there. After the student looks at the card, places it in the basket and heads to the next activity, he may become distracted and forget where he is going. Once again, an adult prompt (usually verbal) is needed to guide the student. A better approach is for the student to have an object/picture in his hands at all points of the transition. Using the transition card as a self-prompt, students can refocus without adult direction. If an adult prompt is needed, the teacher can point to the transition card or manually guide the student while pointing to the card (without a verbal prompt). This will allow easy prompt fading and avoid dependency on adult assistance.

Main Schedule & Mini-Schedules: Visual schedules serve two primary purposes: 1) to allow students to transition effectively from one activity or location to another; and 2) to break down complex tasks into an understandable sequence of smaller tasks. These are sometimes referred to as between-activity schedules and “within-activity” schedules. Since the “within-activity” schedules are usually nested within a “between-activity” schedule, I describe them as the “main schedule” and “mini-schedules.” For example, if a student goes to the main schedule and finds a card that instucts her to go to the work area (TEACCH workstation), she will then find a mini-schedule that gives directions for which tasks to complete. Mini-schedules are useful in many complex classroom routines, such as washing up for lunch, packing up the backpack at the end of the day, or steps to complete a complicated math problem.  

Components of the beginning schedule:

  1. A transition card with the student’s name and picture is handed to the student and they’re told to “check the schedule.”
  2. The student places the card on the top (if it’s a vertical schedule) or on the left (if horizontal).
  3. The student removes the first picture/object from the schedule (upper, or left-most).
  4. The student carries the picture/object to the location of the next activity.
  5. The student matches the picture/object to an identical one at the location of the activity.

Teaching the Schedule: Since transition is a motor activity, beginning learners are taught to use a schedule following “most-to-least” physcial prompting. In other words, the teacher hands the card to the student and holds the card in the student’s hand while they walk to the schedule together. The teacher gently guides the student physically toward the schedule, “hand-over-hand,” the teacher assists the student to remove the activity card, and then they progress to the next activity where the student places the card on a matching one at the new location. On subsequent transitions, the teacher fades the physical assistance and the student moves throughout the room independently. When first teaching a child to use the schedule, it is helpful to introduce it using preferred or reinforcing activities as the destination. Once independence is established, begin introducing other less preferred activities.

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