Behavioural Support Strategies: Visual Schedules


Positive behaviour supports build a child or young person’s capacity to participate in meaningful tasks they need and want to do, to increase quality of life and, in turn, reduce behaviours of concern.

Benefits of Visual Schedules

Visual Schedules can be vital to increasing independence and managing anxiety around completing new tasks by providing structure and predictability. The schedule communicates what is coming up next, allowing the child to prepare and process for the upcoming tasks. Visual schedules can represent a routine of activities or provide a visual sequence of steps required to complete an individual task.

Implementing Rules and Routines

A schedule can also support enforcing rules and routines. The rule is that the tasks must be completed in the order they appear on the schedule. Remind them of the schedule if your child attempts to complete the tasks out of sequence. For example, “Remember your schedule; you must shower first, and then it’s iPad time.” Blaming the rule on the schedule is an excellent way to avoid confrontation. It sounds a lot different referring to a schedule than saying: “You didn’t have a shower, so you can’t use the iPad.” By referring to the schedule, you set the expectations and encourage participation in the desired tasks.

Things to Remember When Introducing a Visual Schedule

  1. Following a schedule is a skill to be taught. Independence in managing and successfully using a visual schedule takes time, direction, and encouragement.
  2. Reduce your verbal prompts to complete an activity and try to redirect your child back to the schedule. Allow your child to check what is next; this supports independence and reduces dependence on verbal prompts to complete tasks.
  3. To support motivation, If your child struggles with a particular routine, try to sequence non-preferred tasks before preferred tasks.
  4. A consistent and calm approach is The foundation of any successful positive behaviour strategy.
  5. Dysregulation is contagious—check in with yourself. If you feel stressed or frustrated supporting your young person, guarantee they feel overwhelmed and anxious, too.

Visual Schedule as a Road Map

Imagine that you are in an unfamiliar town. You are given a list of items to purchase from the supermarket: a milk bottle, six eggs, three apples, and a pear. You are then told the directions to the supermarket: “You need to walk down the street, take the first right, take the second exit at the roundabout, keep going until you pass the old fire station, then take the third turn on your left and you will arrive.”

At this moment, with all the verbal instructions, you might start to feel quite anxious trying to remember both the list of groceries and directions to the supermarket. What would help ease your stress as you enter an unfamiliar town? If the verbal instructions were paired with a visual list and a map, you would have a boost of confidence to initiate the trip. This support would give you something to refer to and reduce the pressure to remember all the details.

As you walk to the supermarket for the first time, you rely on the map and look at it often. As you repeatedly make the trip to the supermarket, you rely less on the map as you remember the route. You become so familiar with the trip that you can make the trip to the supermarket and place the list of items you typically buy without needing the list and map.

Keeping on Track When the Road Gets Shaken

Imagine one day you are travelling along your usual route, and something shakes your routine; there are roadworks, it is night, and everything looks different. Looking for support on your map to get to the shops would be best.

The truth is that we all use visuals in our daily routine to keep us on track. The drive to work comprises road signs that provide us with visual prompts, or you might use a calendar to plan out your weekly tasks. As we learn a routine, things become comfortable, and we rely less on the support we initially needed. However, when we are challenged, we automatically fall back on the visual supports in our environment to help us. This is the same for our children and young people; on the off days when they are dysregulated, they rely more on supports such as visual schedules to get through the day successfully.