I saw a Twitter conversation recently where a teacher said it was a standing joke at her school that the Educational Psychologist only ever recommended Visual timetables for children on the Autistic Spectrum.
She had a point – clearly there is a lot more to supporting a student with autism than a visual timetable. The word ‘visual’ can also get confused with the now debunked theory of being a visual learner.
Students can be visual thinkers and Dr Grandin, who has autism writes eloquently about this (http://www.templegrandin.com). Students can also have a preference for content being visually presented I think.
Autism is essentially a Social Communication difficulty so it also stands to reason that too many words will be confusing to process. Lastly, visual prompts help to make sense of language – again, understanding language is part of communication which can be so difficult for those on the spectrum.
A visual timetable must be interactive however; it’s no use just being on the board. Sessions need to be ticked off, the next activity needs to be clearly highlighted and any changes quickly amended. This sense of order and knowing what to expect is crucial to many students with autism.
Time can also be a priority; in an activity which is difficult for the student – if they know they only have to cope for 15 minutes they are more likely to manage. Imagine your greatest fear – for me lying in a coffin – would you cope better knowing it ends in 15 mins? (I don’t advocate putting a child with autism in a very stressful situation but there are parts of the school day they can participate in if managed correctly).
ChoiceWorks is an iPad app which allows you to create visual schedules. You can swipe from left to right when finished and there is a choice of timer should it be required. Please do finish when the timer stops though; remember the coffin analogy.
It is however a different issue if the student doesn’t want to stop – boundaries need to be set for their favourite activities.
I have found the iPad to be useful as a transition tool from school to home and back again – parents/carers can then continue using schedules and tick lists too.
Alongside Notes for teaching staff and home to communicate with each other, the iPad then becomes the home link book. Photos of work can also be taken to show at home.
Please let me know if you already use Choiceworks; I am keen to hear success stories and problem areas.