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Visual Schedules Important Even as Children Grow Up

My son Logan is 18 years old, soon to turn 19. I have learned over the years how important it is to Logan to have a visual schedule. The schedule must be specific as well as complete. The details of his day must be spelled out and available for him to see. Not having something on his schedule is very unsettling for him, as he’s missing very important information about what to expect. This can create a great deal of anxiety for him and severely alter his mood, negatively affecting him for the entire day.

Most of us have a routine, and for the most part, we know what our day is going to look like. We have our breakfast, take a shower, check our email, head to work, etc. We already are familiar with our routine.

People with autism, especially those who are more severely affected, often rely on others to outline the details of their day. This information must be shared with our loved ones on the spectrum.


Choose a visual schedule that fits your loved one

Create your loved one’s schedule in a format that they can understand. Some benefit from picture cards, and some are able to read the words on a schedule. Some benefit from a checkoff list so they are involved and play a role. Whichever type of schedule you choose, be sure it makes sense to the person for whom you are creating it.

If a schedule has never been implemented, it may be wise to start with a “FIRST and THEN” schedule. This is also very effective for those who struggle with transitions.


  • FIRST: Homework THEN: Computer
  • FIRST: Shower THEN: Watch TV SHOW (specify the name)

If your loved one is able to understand time, you can put the times in place accordingly. A schedule also can be broken down into segments, such as morning, afternoon and evening schedule.


Adjust the schedule as the individual matures

Once Logan had graduated from high school, he still very much needed a schedule, but he was starting to resent the word “schedule,” which he had heard daily during school. The school years were over, but he still needed his schedule, so I began calling it The Plan. This worked like a charm. He still had the visual that he needed, but I made it more age-appropriate.

He was very happy with the plan and continues to follow it daily. We have altered the look of his plan multiple times over the years, starting with a picture schedule when he was very young, then adding words to the pictures, then fading the pictures and just showing the words, along with start and end times. He now receives his schedule in a text format. He answers with a thumbs up.


Ensure the schedule is complete

“The Plan” works best when it doesn’t have gaps or sudden changes. For Logan, even “down time” needs to be on the plan, so he transitions well into the next given activity or task. If there is change, I give him notice (when possible) and give him the new visual for that change of activity.

Some activities on a schedule or plan may be:

  • Therapeutic horseback riding
  • Movie night with friends – along with a visual of the YouTube trailer of the movie
  • Bowling with his friend
  • Basketball at the YMCA and the name of the person taking him there
  • Asheville Tourists baseball game with Dad
  • Silly time (with communication built in)


The busier Logan’s Plan is, the calmer he feels, and the better his day will be. He has the important information and it meets his expectations. I believe this to be true for all people. Let’s take the extra time to spell it out for our loved ones on the autism spectrum. They will greatly appreciate the information, even if they don’t tell you verbally.


Juliette Heim, an ASNC Autism Resource Specialist in Asheville and mom to a son with autism, can be reached at jheim@autismsociety-nc.org.


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