Visual schedules (also known as daily schedules, across-task schedules, within-task schedules or mini-schedules) are a type of visual prompt used to help individuals predict or understand upcoming events.
Visual schedules are based on the idea that autistic individuals may have difficulty understanding what will happen next. Visual schedules use pictures to show which activities will occur and in what sequence.
A visual schedule can be created using photographs, pictures, written words, physical objects or any combination of these items. Schedules can be put into notebooks, onto a wall or schedule board or onto a computer.
Visual schedules have been used for a variety of purposes including to increase independence, to improve on-task behaviour, to improve communication and social skills, and to reduce problem behaviours.
Visual schedules are sometimes used alongside other interventions (such as video modeling) or within multi-component programmes (such as the SPELL programme and the TEACCH programme).
There is no high quality research evidence to suggest that visual schedules have any effect on the core features of autism or provide any other benefits.
There is some very low quality research evidence (one group study and over 20 single case design studies) to suggest that visual schedules may provide some benefits (such as increased independence) for some autistic children. However, the research also suggests that visual schedules may only work if the children have been taught how to use them and are prompted and rewarded for using them.
Visual schedules are relatively cheap and easy to make, can be used for a range of different activities and in different settings, and can be readily adapted to meet the needs of different individuals. Because of this, we believe that they may be a useful intervention for some autistic children, provided that they are personalised to meet the needs of each child.
There is a need for further research which uses more scientifically robust, experimental methodologies with larger numbers of participants. That research should examine issues such as which elements of visual schedules (such as different formats, providers, settings etc.) if any, are the most important for which outcomes for which groups of people.
Please read our Disclaimer on Autism Interventions