Visual Schedules

Definition: A daily visual schedule is a critical component in a structured environment. A visual schedule will tell the student with autism what activities will occur and in what sequence.


  • Are based on a "first-then" strategy; that is, "first you do ___, then you do ___", rather than an "if-then" approach (i.e., "if you do ___, then you can do___"). This first-then strategy allows the "first" expectation (whether a task, activity or assignment) to be modified, as needed. The modification is in terms of task completion and amount of prompting, in order to accommodate the student's daily fluctuations in his ability to process in-coming information. Then he can move on to his next visually scheduled task/activity.

"First-Then" Card

Example: A student is having particular difficulty completing a math worksheet, due to anxiety, sensory processing difficulties, communication, difficulty generalizing, internal/external distracters, change, etc. The assignment can be modified so that the child only has to complete three math problems first, and then he has a sensory break, as indicated on his visual schedule.


Example: Cross/mark off with a dry erase marker, place the item in an "all done" envelope/box, check off the item, draw a line through the scheduled activity, etc.

  • A minimum of two scheduled items should be presented at a time so that the student begins to understand that events and activities happen in a sequential manner, not in isolation.
  • Schedules can be designed using a variety of formats, depending upon the needs of the individual student.

"Visual Schedule"

Example: Object schedule, 3 ring binder schedule, clipboard schedule, manila file folder schedules, dry erase board schedules, Velcro strip across the top of the desk, etc.

  • Various visual representation systems can be used for an individual visual schedule including:
    Real objects;
    Photographs (e.g., "Picture This" software program or own photos);
    Realistic drawings;
    Commercial picture system (e.g., "Boardmaker" software program);
    Written words/lists.

"Visual Schedule"