A missing piece of working with children who have multiple disabilities, particularly those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, is the use of a consistent daily and weekly schedule across all life domains: home, school, daycare and other caregivers, and even church.
I have had conversations with parents, caregivers, other teachers, relatives, therapists, doctors, and even church pastors about ways to help children with autism and a daily picture schedule is the place I would start for almost every child with autism spectrum disorder.
Children and adults with autism need a consistent and predictable schedule. People on the Autism Spectrum are visually oriented. They notice visual changes and cues much better than verbal or auditory cues.
Here are the steps to creating a schedule.
Hold a team meeting. A team meeting is a vital step in the process, and one that is sometimes neglected.
The members of the child’s entire support system need to come together and create a consistent routine for the entire week. First, using post-it notes, write down what is involved in a typical routine in each area.
Areas which need addressed are:
- Home – weekday mornings and evenings and weekends
- Home of a non-custodial parent or relative
- Church or other social activities
- Babysitters/daycare providers
Make sure to include your paraprofessionals/Instructional Assistants in this team meeting, as well as any support staff such as Physical and Occupational Therapists. Their input and consistent follow-through with the schedule is a vital piece of the puzzle.
Collaborate to create similar routines at each location. For example, the bedtime routine, no matter where it happens, might look like this:
- Brush teeth
Review your schedule every day. I used to try to make sure I had it up before the children came in, but now I have discovered it works best for my class if we review and change it for the day together. I have made up a song to my schedule for my current class to the tune of “My Darling Clementine.” One of my verbal students asks me to “sing the schedule” every morning.
Last year I used schedule cards from the ABCteach.com website to create my daily schedule. This site requires a membership but is very valuable and well worth the small yearly fee.
This year I plan to switch to Boardmaker PEC (Picture Exchange Communication) symbols to create my daily schedule. It will help to make it more consistent with other teachers as students transition to higher grade levels. I make the pictures, laminate them and put them in a pocket chart.
Lastly, and this is where I differ from most professionals who work with children who have autism – teach that change happens and it’s o.k. In fact, after students get used to the daily schedule, I start adding some changes in every now and then. Change is an inevitable part of life and appropriate reactions to change can and should be taught.
I have found that simple social stories using pictures, words or a combination work best to smooth the transition to the change in the schedule/routine.
I made up a simple social story goes like this and it works wonders. I have the students repeat it and they really seem understand the concept. It goes like this:
“Usually we follow the schedule on the board.
But sometimes things have to change.
And change is O.K.”
One of my students says back to me “Yes, Ms. Whiting. Change is o.k. Change is o.k.”