Friday, February 26, 2010

Places to Go--A Visual Schedule for the Car

Visual Schedules are pretty close to magic when it comes to helping children understand what will happen and feel calmer through the varied activities of a day.  I think of a visual schedules as the first line strategy to use when we are discussing Positive Behavioral Supports (positive ways to help children behave appropriately).  I try to imagine how anxious I would be if I had no idea what was going to happen, hour-by-hour each day and it is not hard to see why a visual schedule is helpful.  Having a language disorder is not just being unable to understand what others say (which is one reason we use a visual schedule) and not being able to ask others about things that don't know (which is another reason we use a visual schedule)--a language disorder means you don't have the internal language inside your head that most of us use to talk ourselves though the day.  For example, if I am tired as I shop for things I need on a Saturday afternoon, I can converse with myself, saying something like

Well, I need gas, and then I have to get a few groceries because I don't have time later in the week.  We need fruit.  The fruit is all gone.  I wonder if they still have papayas--those were good.  Ron will want bananas. After I finish shopping, I will stop at Starbucks and get cup of coffee.  I want to try that new Cherry Mocha.

Kids with a significant communication disorder, (all kids with autism), can not pep talk themselves through a seemingly endless Saturday of shopping--nor through the many other sequential events of life. Making Visual Schedules for kids with autism is one of the most basic language support you can offer.

A Speech Pathologist named Linda Hodgdon is really The Guru of Visual Supports and I want to encourage the parents and teacher of every child with autism to sign up for her newsletters online. If you stop reading right now and go do that, I will be delighted.  But, I have offered a nice example of a visual support below and I hope some of you will find this visual support useful.

My colleague, Tamara Pogin and I try to have a Visual Support of the month all made up and ready to give out in our therapy room as a way to encourage families to try new Visual Supports.  The one we are giving out right now is a Visual Schedule for the car that we call Paces To Go.

Why use a visual schedule?
  1. Because it will help your child pay attention as you communicate.
  2. Because it will help your child understand verbal information.
  3. Because it will help your child stay calm in situations that would otherwise be confusing and upsetting.
Here is what you need:
  • Laminated car outline with a strip of Velcro on which you can place one or more pictures.
  • Laminated photo's, picture symbols, or even homemade drawings that represent different locations in the community. Put the other side of the velcro on these pictures.
  • Put your car/schedule up in your car somewhere and keep all your pictures in an envelope in the glove compartment so you have them when you need them.
  • Put some small, blank, Post-It notes in so you can draw a location if you go somewhere different and don't have a picture.
Here is a short video clip showing how to make and use this basic visual schedule:

With children who do not yet use many words or who have never used a visual schedule before, start with photographs rather than line drawings representing places and start with just one picture at a time.

For children who are using at least 100 words and can combine words, you may want to use this visual schedule to help your child learn how to plan with language and remember with language, and tell stories about real things that happened while out cruising around in the car.  There are many language skills that you can teach by using a visual support of this kind.  After you make this visual support, take it with you to visit your child's Speech Language Pathologist and ask him or her how you could use this tool to help your child achieve learning objectives that are written on the Individual Education Plan or Treatment Plan. 

Where to get pictures?
There are many ways to get pictures to use for Visual Supports.  We use a software program called Boardmaker.  We also use a digital camera and take many photos.  We copy photo's from Google Image, just doing an Image Search for any photo that we want.  This option is nice because many places your family goes will actually have photos online.  Schelra is another source that has some very nice picture symbols and for some situations, these would be excellent.

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