The Importance of a Daily Schedule

Nadia Shanab | autism, general advice, parenting
16 Jun 2010

We all need some organization and planning to be efficient, productive and relaxed throughout the day. Autistic children, in particular, need a daily schedule in order to picture in their mind how the day will go for them. Their notion of time is different, what appears for “normal” people to be slow might appear to be fast for them and vice-versa. Always bear in mind that their brain is wired differently and that their processing (thinking) speed is consequently different. In some cases the processing speed of an autistic child is much faster than a typically developed one. I once worked with a high functioning student with Asperger’s syndrome in a mainstream class who used to raise his board with the correct answer before anybody else did. That also explains why some children are disconnected from the rest of the class and feel bored and tired. To the contrary, some of them are slow and they should be allowed enough time to respond. This is called accommodation, and this is one of the requirements in special education that all educators and parents should respect.

A daily schedule sets up expectations and helps keep track of what needs to be done and what already has been done. By using a visual, physical schedule (that the child can manipulate by herself) the child gets a sense of achievement every time she completes a task.

Preparedness is a key element in autistic children’s success. They don’t like surprises and sudden change of routine. Why? Because they feel pushed out of their comfort zone and have to reassess, recalculate and readjust to the new situation. Those are two of the most common traits of autism: inflexibility and love for sameness.

Since most autistic children think in patterns and pictures rather than verbally, the schedule should be clear and easy to understand and handle. The schedule should incorporate breaks and fun activities to appeal to the child. Depending on the need you may decide for the number (frequency) and duration of breaks. I personally keep extra break tags available in case the student comes in less cooperative in the morning. Then I can squeeze them in the schedule or remove them according to her condition.

If you notice that the child is irritable and not ready to do work, allow longer and more frequent breaks. This can avoid a big temper tantrum which would yield much disappointment and frustration. Instead, a break will help the child make a better choice and opt to go back to work.

Giving a break should be structured and planned for. For example: give the child 3 options. The options should be offered under a visual form on top of the verbal form. “Johnny, would you like to go outside for a walk, or make a puzzle, or read a book?” Then respect her choice and allow her enough time to enjoy the break.

What I usually do before offering the options is write down on a white board:

1-First break   2-Then work

By doing this I am setting up the expectations clearly and visually, and the child knows that the break is timed and not open ended. To make it even more precise I use a visual timer that shows how long the break will be.

A schedule is most effective if used consistently at home and at school. For this to work as best as possible, it is strongly recommended that the parents and educators communicate and stay on the same page. To learn how to make a magnetic schedule, click here.

I cannot emphasize enough how important visual representation is for helping autistic children. To learn more about this, I highly recommend the movie Temple Grandin.

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  1. CR says:

    Interesting site and some interesting tips.

    One tip from a parent of an autistic child and someone who has had the pleasure of speaking and corresponding with autistic adults –

    Please refer to non-autistic people as “neurotypical” or even just “non-autistic people.” Autism is a condition and a lifelong one. It is not a disease. People with autism are not “abnormal” or somehow malfunctioning. They have learning differences due to different neurology.

    Other than this issue – nice site and I would love to keep reading.

  2. Mrs. A says:

    Dear CR,
    Thank you so much for your interest in my site. Working with autistic children is my passion, and that is the reason behind creating this 3 day old site. I have a lot more to share with serious people like you.

    Regarding your concern, I absolutely agree with you on the term you used (neurotypical) which we use interchangeably with the technical term “typically developed” also.

    “Normal” is an oversimplification, but no doubt about it as you said, autism is not a disease.

    Your input is highly appreciated. I wish you all the best.
    Mrs. A

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  14. […] can post the child’s schedule in her room, in the kitchen, by the house door, or in other places where the child can keep track […]

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