There are many systems available that you can purchase for a visual schedule and they all have nice features. I found a way to make my own which allowed me to change it depending on what I was trying to accomplish.
The basic supplies you need are:
- Business Card Size Self Adhesive Magnets
(You can find them at Office Max or other google “magnetic business card self adhesive)
- Vinyl ID Badge Holders (Also found at Office Max)
- Ability to print your own color pictures or graphics
Simply stick the self-adhesive magnet to the back of the vinyl badge holder. Now you can insert and replace as many items as you want into your own visual schedule. You can use them on your appliances to set the schedule for the day, use a magnetic dry erase board, or just line them up on a table or place mat.
Notice how for some I used clip art but for “Dinner” I actually took a picture of my daughter at the table sitting on a chair with her family. Using real pictures is very helpful but not always realistic when trying to get a schedule going quickly.
You can keep a box of hundreds of items, people, activities and places ready to go. When you present a schedule to your child try to limit it to no than 6-7 items on the schedule. As you complete, it you can start the next 6-7 activities. By using the schedule you are letting your child process the transitions coming ahead of time. As they develop they may even help you choose items on the schedule.
You can use the magnetic cards for some of the following parts of your day:
- Morning self-care routine
- Play time (Legos, cars, blocks, bath time)
End your schedule with the “big” transition such as moving from play to the bath.
- Big picture for the day
At breakfast, I would lay out a picture of school, who was picking her up from school, anything out of the ordinary, such as a guest coming to the house, etc. Remember the goal is to get them to process these events ahead of time and feel a bit more in control over what will be happening.
- School Work
Many children use visual schedules on their desks at school to help them transition from subject to subject or deal with out of the ordinary events.
- Running Errands
If you know you are going to be in the car and making several stops, put a schedule together of the stops and bring with you. They can help by removing the item as you accomplish it.
- Bed Time Routine
I have also used the cards to help learn to verbalize names of items, make choices, and learn to read. When making your cards, print a simple word for that activity on the card. If they are strong at visual processing, they may learn to site read words instead of sound them out. Either way, they may have the ability to site read words before you even realize it.
One interesting thing I noticed with my daughter at an early age was that when given a choice, she would almost always pick the last choice, even if she wanted the first one. The OT helped me identify this one day. This is why it is so important to become a student of your child. Her processing was such that she could only repeat the last word she heard. As her echolalia became worse, she would repeat the choices instead of answering with one choice. For example, “Do you want juice or milk?” she would either say “milk” or say “juice or milk.” This made communication so very frustrating.
So, to help the situation, I would use the magnetic cards for her choices. I would lay two cards in front of her. One for juice and one for milk. After I asked her the question, she would say “juice or milk” but hand me the card for juice.
My daughter also had a hard time finding something to “play” on her own. I would use the schedule to direct her to several activites. Sometimes I would lay out 5-6 activities and ask her to point to what she wanted to do.
You can also use the cards as a game. Place 10 cards on the table. 5 of them food and 5 of them toys. Mix them up and ask them to put all of the food in one pile and the toys in another pile.
If you are working with them on speaking, work with to say the name of the activity on the card as they complete it and take it off the schedule.
Side note: They may be hard to find, but I used an old 3.5 disk organizer to keep my magnetic cards in. It was the perfect size and came with a clear plastic cover and sections. It is important to store the cards not being used out of site or they will get confused when they see something they want and it’s not on the schedule.