Using Visual Schedules on the Weekend

By Brenda Dater

Ever have the experience of waking up Saturday morning with a plan for how the day should proceed?  Guess what, your child on the autism spectrum does too! Often the parent and child perspectives differ concerning what should happen during the weekend. One strategy that can help address these differing expectations and clarify what will happen is to use a visual schedule.

Visual schedules are often used at school and home during the week in the form of calendars to help everyone see what’s coming next—this leads to fewer unexpected moments. Being able to predict and understand how long activities will last and why they need to occur helps children with Asperger profiles understand what the day will look like.

The following steps can help as you develop a weekend schedule with your child:

  • Let your child know you need some help with an activity and that this should take about 10 minutes or less. Use a timer to help them understand what 10 minutes (or less) feels like.
  • Ask your child what things they particularly want to do that day. If they need prompts you can ask more specifically what they want free time for (reading, video/computer games, playing a specific board game, going swimming, etc…). Asking them for their preference first helps them to see that their interests and needs will be addressed. It’s very helpful if your child can have at least one activity they really want to do on the schedule.
  • Let your child know what you have to do today (errands, cooking, cleaning, visiting family/friends, exercise, etc…). This helps them to see more than their own perspective.
  • Talk about how much time will be needed for different activities. This helps your child to see the bigger picture of how time will be allocated. For example, the schedule can help them to see that going to a piano lesson takes 30 minutes out of the whole day and they still have 2 hours for a preferred activity. Often a child will spend time complaining about having to do a non-preferred activity because they can’t predict how much time it will take. Making the time commitment explicit helps them to start to learn that all activities have an end point (both non-preferred and preferred) and helps with transitioning to the next activity.
  • Let your child know that the schedule can change and that you’ll let him/her know if that’s going to happen.
  • Give your child positive recognition for helping you to plan your day.
  • Post and refer to the schedule—give your child lots of kudos for using it too.

Download Template

Tip: You can make the size of the box reflect the amount of time spent in an activity. For example, make bigger boxes for activities that take more time and smaller boxes for activities that take less time. You can use fewer boxes too. Want help organizing your home life? Call AANE or learn more about and sign up for parent coaching.