Visual schedules and timelines are tools that can be used to help individuals with autism understand and manage their daily routine. They typically consist of a series of pictures or symbols that represent the activities that the person will be doing throughout the day. 

Many visual schedules may follow or are a development of a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). PECS has long been used as an effective support tool for individuals with Downs Syndrome, Tourettes Syndrome, Autism and other developmental conditions. 

The core idea behind visual schedules is that they provide a clear and consistent way for the person to see what is happening next, which can help them feel more in control, reducing anxiety and uncertainty. Some of the benefits of using visual schedules include:

Providing structure and predictability:

Many autistic individuals or those with other conditions may need to know what is coming next so they can emotionally prepare for the upcoming activity. They thrive on routine and structure, and knowing what to expect in their daily lives. Visual timelines can provide a clear and easy-to-understand representation of the activities and events that are planned for the day, week, or month, which can help autistic individuals feel more comfortable and in control.

In general, the fewer surprises the better; unexpected events are usually unwelcome and may lead to distress, both mental and sometimes also a physical reaction. The predictability of a schedule provides visual support and a sense of security whilst also easing anxiety.

Increased Learning:

These types of visual supports can be used to teach a daily routine as well as skills to perform a specific activity. Visual schedules are often used in education to help students with additional needs stay on track. For example, a teacher may post the day’s picture schedule on a wall or provide pictures that describe steps on how to go to the bathroom. Giving step-by-step visual cues appears is an effective way for most autistic individuals to learn and helps keep them on task.  

Visual schedules can be created for almost any set of skills, including, social interactions, routines, academics and daily living. Abstract principles, such as time and organisation, in particular are things that are more difficult for autistic individuals. However using visual aids they are transformed into tangible objects that are accessible and feel more concrete which is crucial to enhance understanding and learning.

Promoting Independence:

One of the key goals when working with autistic individuals is to promote independent functioning. A visual schedule provides an opportunity for students to learn and self-develop with minimal outside intervention. Besides mastering specific skills, users improve the ability to organise, make decisions, employ time management. 

Features such as the ability to cross items off their list are important to give individuals a self-managed way to show that they have successfully completed an activity, providing a sense of accomplishment and reinforcing their efforts. Personalisation is also important, the more people can relate to their visual supports, the more likely that they will understand them. Including photos of the individual successfully completing the steps of the process will facilitate learning and improve self-efficacy. 

These are all crucial abilities for independence. Eventually, they may be able to create and follow their own schedules, indicating their progress toward being more self-sufficient. 

Communication and social skills:

Visual timelines can provide a visual representation of the information that is typically conveyed through verbal communication, which can be helpful for individuals with autism who may struggle with verbal communication. Visual timelines can also provide a way for autistic individuals to communicate their own needs and preferences. Specifically with digital visual timelines and schedules on phones and tablets, where users can easily self select and interact with icons which helps improve their social skills.

Supporting transition and change:

Many people can find it challenging to adjust to new situations or changes in routine. When these events are known, visual timelines should be prepared ahead of these events to provide a visual representation of what is happening and what will happen next. This helps autistic individuals understand and prepare for transitions and changes, providing consistency and familiarity with the schedule reduces anxiety and the opportunity for meltdowns.

Visual schedules can be a useful tool for helping autistic individuals to transition between activities, manage their time, and understand complex tasks or instructions.

Hopefully this adds some colour to why we are so keen on the use of visual timetables / schedules here at picturepath, and how we’ve developed our app specifically to support neurodiverse individuals and those with additional support needs. 

Specific features such as the ability create custom schedules using a variety of visual symbols and images, timelines than can be shared between a computer, a tablet, or smartphone; enabling users to print out their schedules or share them with others and providing data on feedback on what activities were enjoyed or difficult – are some of the things that set us apart.

If you’d like to discuss how picturepath’s visual schedules could support the neurodiverse needs of your organisation or students please don’t hesitate to get in touch.