Sunday, August 3, 2014

Info for parents & educators: visual scheduling

There are many things that special needs teachers do that may not be main stream, but are good teaching practices regardless of a child's abilities. One of those things is using a visual schedule.
According to education.com, "A visual schedule communicates the sequence of upcoming activities or events through the use of objects, photographs, icons, words or a combination of tangible supports." Basically it is a to do list with pictures on it. They are used largely with children who have autism, adhd, or other organizational concerns.
Another place they are seen is in early childhood classrooms. This is because young children do well in structured environments and they can't read yet (or well, in some cases). A child who is unsure of what may happen next or who is still learning to be in control of just themselves while following directions has an easier time transitioning when the support of a visual schedule is there.
I found this out recently with my own strong willed 4 year old. By "found out" I mean I used a method that I knew would be helpful (bassed on my previous experience) and was somehow still surprised.
I decided to try a visual schedule when other methods (like allowing acceptable choices, waiting, asking questions, being firm, removing the item causing problems, removing us/him from the environment, bribes ... And everything else under the sun) were not giving consistent results. Well, it was consistent, but only in that I knew he would react negatively or unexpectedly somehow
So, I looked harder to find a pattern. Behavior doesn't just happen and children don't do things "wrong" just to make you crazy,  despite what you may feel at the time. What I noticed was that every (EVERY) time a change or transition was talked about or began to happen, he would become flippant, clingy, whiney, aggressive, flop on the floor, swipe or throw things.  It is something I feel liked I should have seen from a mile away: he has anxiety about transitions and feels a loss of control because he is unsure of what to expect.
I also noticed that evenings were the worst for him. He has never been a big napper, so by dinner he is predictably tired. Even though we do almost the exact routine nightly, he is rarely unable to follow the directions without putting up a fight.
So, I tried a schedule. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil, made 3 squares of what was going on next, and had my son watch while I drew and wrote 1 thing for each square. It was something like "eat, put clothes in hamper, take bath."
It
Was
Amazing
He LOVED the control it gave him. He was able to stop worrying about what I was going to tell him and focus on being autonomous. It felt magical. He ate his dinner, which could be a whole other post.  He put his clothes in the hamper, not on his bedroom floor. He took a bath AND put on pajamas without me asking. It was so cute. I loved the smug smile and crossed arms cool guy pose he did afterward, "yeah. I did it. What's next? Can I cross it out? Don't forget to put hugs&kisses at bedtime."
Fortunately, I grew out of my rose colored glasses many years ago and knew that might just be a good experience because it was new. So we did it a few more times, mainly in the evening or if we were going somewhere. It had been very helpful. And he is comfortable enough with himself to ask for incidental changes, like adding a bathroom break or playing at the library. He seems to intuitively know that the schedule isn't static, but we are going to do all of those things in that order.
I was able to find an app that does individualized picture schedules for free.  WHAT'S NEXT!? is available for Android with some limitations for the free version and unlimited features for the paid. Features include loading pictures and saving schedules that will be reused, like a bedtime routine or getting ready for school. I like this app because it is simple, functional, and customizable.
I made one for bedtime that we used tonight. I think the added bonus of being allowed to do something on mommy's phone made it super awesome; I don't normally allow my kids to use my phone for games. We still had the normal kids moments like not wanting to wash hair, running around nude laughing hysterically at himself, getting the wrong toothbrush on purpose, falling face first into bed - all very funny stuff. But he did it. He did what we wanted him to do in a timely fashion.
It felt awesome. He felt awesome.
Summary:
- unwanted or unexpected behaviors could be a child's way of communicating that something is wrong
- look for patterns if behavior is repeatedly an interference
- provide a tool, like a visual schedule, that helps your child behave in expected ways
After creating a schedule, you can choose to make it interactive or static. Click "Choices" if you want your child to be able to pick what is next or choose "Checklist" if you want your child to be able to check off items as they are completed. "Schedule" means you are able to view the schedule, but not modify it in any way.
There are multiple options for display, depending on your child's ability. My son likes the small icons with words, "List." 
You can choose to have larger icons, with just 2 for a "First, Then" type schedule or even larger icons that display a single item.
This is what it looks like when you check it off. Woo! 
The free version allows you to save 4 schedules and 25 pictures. Routines that are the same every time are easily accessible. 

How to do help your child with transitions?

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