Setting Up Visual Schedules

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Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Tip of the Month:
October, 2018

As the school year is well under way, we want to make sure that all of our students are set up with visual schedules that will support their learning and facilitate independence.

What are visual schedules?
Visual schedules are any form of visual representation that portrays a sequence of tasks or events. For example, many of us might use calendars, day planners, and timetables. We use these tools to support our personal organization and memory and to help us remember and be better prepared for upcoming events.

How do they support our students with ASD?
Most students with ASD have strengths in visual processing relative to auditory processing. This means that they are better able to process and understand information that they can see (e.g., pictures, text, diagrams) than information that they hear (e.g., lectures, verbal instructions). Additionally, a common area of difficulty among students with ASD is executive functioning, which includes sequencing, organizing, and planning, and impacts activities such as transitions. With visual schedules, we support transitions and student preparation by showing them what is finished, what is coming up, and when a change is going to occur. By using visual schedules, we are supporting our students by taking a load of the brain and putting it on paper.

What should they look like?
When designing visual schedules it is important to use an appropriate level of symbolic representation for your particular student. Symbolic representation refers to your student’s level of understanding of visual symbols representing concepts. Listed below are different levels of symbolic representation from most basic to most complex.

Real objects → miniature objects → photographs → coloured drawings → black line drawings → written words
Some students will need real and personally relevant objects (e.g., their own glove to know that it is outside time). Others may be able to use related objects (e.g., a small wooden spoon for cooking time). Photographs might include pictures of the student, activity, or place where the activity occurs. Drawings may take the form of coloured drawings or more abstract line drawings and may be generated from the computer or hand drawn. Reliable readers will use written schedules, which is likely more similar to what is used by peers. However, some students may require more detailed written schedules than what is included on the classroom schedules; specific times, room numbers, and materials needed may be helpful to have on their schedule.
Remember, the level of symbolic representation that you choose will depend on what is meaningful to the student. It is important to choose the level that is most abstract but that your student can easily and reliably understand.

Tips for using visual schedules:
• The use of visual schedules must be directly taught to students. Initially students will need prompts to refer to the schedule and match activities to their representation on the schedule. However, visual schedules are intended to foster independence so prompts should be faded as the use of a schedule becomes more familiar.
• Be sure to involve you student in the set-up of the schedule. Once in place, be sure to review it at the beginning of the day. Sometimes, you may only present part of the schedule at a time – some students may find too many items on their schedule to be overwhelming.
• Be sure to include an activity completion symbol – cross out, take off, remove object, or turn over photograph/picture. This will help students remember where they are in their day and see what is coming up next.
• Always have a way to indicate a change. Be sure to build flexibility into visual schedules by teaching your student that change is ok and having a symbol to indicate when a change in their schedule is going to occur.
• Expect visual schedules to grow and change over time. As your students’ skills improve and environments change, so will their symbolic understanding and daily activities. Make sure their visual schedules utilize their most complex level of symbolic understanding and accurately reflect their school day.

Bottom line:
Setting up effective visual schedules requires an understanding of your students’ needs and symbolic understanding. Using visual schedules not only adds consistency and predictability to students’ days but teaches a functional life skill that students with ASD can use throughout their lives.

Cohen, M.J. & Sloan, D.L (2007). Visual Supports for People with Autism: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Woodbine House Inc., Maryland, USA. ISBN: 978-1890627478

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Start off the New Year Organized

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Tip of the Month:
September, 2018

The One Binder System

Several schools we work with have instituted “one binder systems” for all their students at the middle school or high school level. We frequently recommend organizational systems like this for students with ASD as poor organization is commonplace in this population. If your school does not have a common organizational system for everyone, you can customize one for your child or student. Common guidelines for developing and using an organizational system include the following:

first and foremost

Engage the student in the process of developing the system! Get his input and allow him some choice in the types of materials and strategies you use to support him.

identify needed materials (check with teachers)

For example:
• a 2 ½ inch to 3 inch binder (preferably one that zips closed)
• a portable 3 hole punch that can be stored in the binder
• a pencil case that can click into the rings of the binder
• materials for the pencil case that are needed for individual subjects (pens, pencils, erasers, pencil crayons, ruler, compass, protractor, calculator, highlighter, pencil sharpener)
• colored dividers to separate subject areas
• loose leaf lined paper

identify and create visual supports

These visual supports will be included in the binder to support compliance and independence.

For example:
• An agenda or table to document assignments (see attached assignment log sample)
• Check lists that identify steps (see attached process checklist sample)
• Self- monitoring systems (see attached self –monitoring supports sample)
• Incentives (see attached self monitoring supports sample)

include the objective of using the organizational system into the student’s IEP

• Who will help the student use the system at school and at home?
• What strategies (other than visuals) will be used to develop student’s independent use?
• How will we evaluate progress? Consider developing a rubric such as that used at a Middle School in South Central British Columbia: (copy attached)

For more information on teaching organization to students with ASD, check out the following resources:

One Binder Rubric.pdf188.08 KB
Process Checklist.docx36.26 KB
Self-monitoring supports.docx17.98 KB
Assignment Log.docx16.99 KB

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Errorless Learning

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Errorless Learning
Tip of the Month:
August, 2018

As the name indicates, errorless learning is a teaching procedure designed to build success and minimize errors during the learning process. The main idea behind the procedure is to provide the learner with as much help as necessary for them to respond correctly at the start of the learning process and gradually reducing the amount and/or intensity of the help over time. The end goal is still to promote the learner’s independent responding. Below is a diagram of the general progression of errorless learning procedure:

There are a number of important items that people should keep in mind when running an errorless learning procedure:

• Fading the prompt too soon. One common mistake that often happens when running an errorless learning procedure is fading the prompts (help) too soon. This can lead to students making error and not learning successfully.

• Fading the amount of prompt by too much. Another mistake often seen is making too big of a jump from one prompt level to another one. For example, going from providing hand-over-hand prompt to a visual prompt. Removing too much of the help can lead, again, to students making error and not learning successfully.

• Keeping the prompt for too long. The last common mistake that often occurs during an errorless learning procedure is not fading the prompt fast enough. This can lead to prompt dependency and hinder a student’s ability to respond independently.

In order to minimize these errors, we need to collect data on student’s performance and make decision based on what the data tell us.


Florida Institute of Technology – The Scott Center Autism Advisor (2018). Errorless learning [Video File]. Retrieved from

Relias. (2018). Errorless learning: An autism teaching strategy video [Video File]. Retrieved from

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Summer Entertainment

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Tip of the Month:
July, 2018

The absence of a school routine may create challenges in daily lives during the summer months. For parents, children are around all day and for children, there is a less structured environment to deal with. Changes can be positive, but challenges may emerge.

Resist the temptation to abandon basic family rules and routines. Although it’s appealing to give children a break, it is important to remember that too much deviance from established routines can lead to irritability and meltdowns. However, some flexibility during the summer months is encouraged. It is a time for children to have fun. Maintain basic bedtime habits, scheduled chores, and other established expectations (e.g., not playing video games all day).

Keep a scheduled calendar of events. Even during the summer months, it is important to keep structure so children are able to anticipate upcoming events. A simple visual calendar that displays activities throughout the summer months allow children to prepare.

Create a mixture of major summer activities (e.g., long weekend trips, family vacation) and casual activities (e.g., swimming, playground trips, hiking) to keep children interested in summer events. Also, it is important to schedule daily quiet time. Children can choose from various quiet activities; however, these activities should be unplugged (i.e., away from technological devices, such as tv, iPad, video games, etc.). This enables children to entertain themselves and avoid overstimulation.

Daily education does not have to decrease since school is out for the summer. Incorporate time into the schedule to research and experiment topics of interest. If available, take opportunities to visit museums, aquariums, etc. to further develop educational ideas. Spend time outdoors when possible to interact with nature and learn about different animals and plants.

Some families live in urban areas where day camps and other structured programs are accessible. If possible, it may benefit your child to participate in one of these programs. There are a variety of programs offered and will depend on the location of the family.
Finally, planning daily time to read is important, especially for those children who have difficulty with reading skills. It does not have to be a book, as long as it holds the child’s attention (e.g., comic books, magazines, posters, etc.).

During the summer, parents hope to avoid boredom and demands of constant parent attention. With the right balance of free time and planned time, children are less likely to become bored and display challenging behaviour.

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Collaborate Problem-Solving Approach

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Tip of the Month:
June, 2018

The Collaborative Problem-Solving Approach is an approach developed by Ross Greene and J. Stuart Ablon that is aimed to reduce adversarial relationship between adults and students.

The approach views problem behaviours as an attempt by the student to solve a problem in the face of missing skills, such as social skills, executive skills, language skills, and other skills.

When a student presents a challenging behaviour towards an expectation given by an adult, there are three ways an adult can react to it.

Plan A:

Continue to impose adult will and expectations: “You must do it!”, “Stop it!”, “Because I said so!”

• Continue to pursue adult expectations

• Does NOT decrease problem behaviour
• Does NOT teach missing skills
• Does NOT result in lasting solution to the problem
• Does NOT create a ‘positive’ relationship between adult & student

Plan B:

Collaborative problem-solving approach
Mutually satisfactory & realistic solution to both parties

• Continue to pursue adult expectations
• Decreases problem behaviour
• Creates a ‘positive’ relationship between adult & student
• Teaches missing skills to the students
• Results in a durable solution to the problem


Plan C

Drop the expectation for the time being

“You can do it later”, “You don’t have to do it”

• Decreases problem behaviour
• Creates a ‘positive’ relationship between adult & student

• Expectations are NOT met
• Does NOT teach missing skills
• Does NOT result in a lasting solution to the problem

As you can see from the chart above, the Plan B approach results in the best outcome for both the student and the adult involved in the situation.

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Reinforcer or Break

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Tip of the Month:
May, 2018

Often, we look at reinforcer (or reward) and break as the same thing where in reality they serve different purposes.

A break is an activity that helps a person bring themselves back into a zone where they are at their optimal condition for participating and engaging in an activity. A break:
· Is something that everyone needs throughout the day
· Is typically short in duration (5 minutes or less)
· Should always ends with the student returning to the current task
· Is NOT something that the student needs to earn
· Is NOT access to preferred item/activity

A reinforcer is a preferred item or activity that the student receives contingent on the student completing a given task or instruction. A reinforcer:
· Uses a preferred item or activity based from a completed preference profile (see Resources for example)
· Can only be accessed by completing a given task or instruction
· Is typically short in duration (5 minutes or less)

To review, a break is a self-regulation activity designed to help a student stay engaged throughout the day, while a reinforcer is an item or activity that helps motivate a student to complete a given task or instruction.


GoNoodle, Inc. (2015). Press play on movement and mindfulness. Retrieved from
CosmicKids. (2018). Welcome to Cosmic Kids!. Retrieved from

Your Kids OT. (2016). Brain breaks to help concentration in the classroom!. Retrieved from

AFIRM Team. (2015). R+ reinforcer selection list in PDF. Chapel Hill, NC: National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder, FPG Child Development Center, University of North Carolina. Retrieved from

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Writing an Effective Individual Education Plan

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Tip of the Month:
April, 2018

An individual education plan (IEP) is the foundation for a student’s instructional program. Both school and home (and sometimes students) should be closely involved in developing and revising the student’s IEP over the school year and across grades. Many teachers and parents believe that longer, more detailed IEPs translate into better learning for the student. However, “less is more” may be the ideal approach when determining what skills and behaviours to target.

First, identify the long-term goals for the student. What goals would be most meaningful and functional for the student? What goals can the team select to focus on both immediate and long-term success? Example goals include “big picture” skills like communication, self-regulation, or numeracy.

Next, determine short-term objectives that will help the student reach the goals. Objectives should be written in clear, concrete language. They should be observable and measurable; if there is no reliable way to measure the student’s progress, the objectives may remain stagnant throughout the school year. Objectives should also be achievable and realistic so that the student experiences ongoing successes at the appropriate level.

In addition to clearly specifying the target skill or behaviour, objectives should outline the context (e.g., where and when) and criterion for mastery (e.g., 80% accuracy). Although data collection can seem daunting to school teams, there are various tricks for making this kind of progress monitoring more feasible. Instead of collecting data all day long for every objective, consider taking probe data only once or twice a week during specific subjects. This may be all that is necessary to monitor progress.

Overall, clearly defining and measuring fewer skills should be more successful than attempting to teach a laundry list of objectives. In focusing on greater quality of instruction for fewer skills, teams may see greater student successes. Similarly, the team should also find this process rewarding and be encouraged to continue creating meaningful yet feasible goals for students.

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Sticky Notes

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Sticky Notes
Sticky Notes
Sticky Notes
Sticky Notes
Sticky Notes
Tip of the Month:
March, 2018

In working with a student, staff often carry a variety of tools with them, such as visual schedule, token board, first…then visual, contingency map, and many others. These tools can be cumbersome for staff to carry and organize, often leading them to be misplaced or unused.

One way to help ensure that staff will always have most, if not all, the tools necessary to support the student without the hassle of carrying multiple items, is by using your everyday sticky notes and a pencil.

Sticky notes provide a blank canvas for staff to create almost all the visuals needed to support a student. The sticky notes also allow staff to individualize the visuals to the present situation.

Some examples of various visuals that can be created on a sticky note are shown to the right.

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Handling Teasing

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Tip of the Month:
February, 2018

Laugeson (2014) defined teasing as any disparaging remark directed toward another person. Often, the teaser is reinforced by the attention that he or she gets from the crowd and/or the pleasure he or she gets from the discomfort of the victim. Research has shown that socially rejected teens, much like most of our students with ASD, tend to get angry, upset, or physically aggressive when they are teased, while more socially accepted teens often respond to teasing with humor or assertion. Understanding these can provide us with a framework on teaching our students how to respond to teaching.

How to Handle Teasing (Laugeson, 2014)
1. Act like what the person said didn’t bother you.
2. Act like what the person said was lame or stupid.
3. Give a short verbal comeback, such as one of the examples below:
“Yeah, and?”
“Is that supposed to be funny?”
“So what?”
“Who cares”
“And your point is…”
“Big deal”
“And why should I care?”
4.Sound bored OR Have an attitude when you use the comebacks. Decide what is more comfortable for you to use.
5. Give a nonverbal comeback. Pick one that you can do and is comfortable for you to do:
-Rolling your eyes
-Shrugging your shoulders
-Shaking your head
-Be ready with several verbal comebacks. The teasing won’t stop after just one comeback.
-After giving a few verbal comebacks, remove yourself by casually looking away or slowly walking away

Role-play various scenarios with your student in a safe environment until he or she is comfortable with giving both verbal and non-verbal comebacks. Focus on the tone of voice and body language as you are practicing with the student.

Important Note:

  • Don’t ignore the teasing
  • Don’t walk away without giving verbal comebacks
  • Don’t tell an adult right away
  • Don’t tease back
  • Don’t banter (friendly, playful teasing) – very risky to engage in
  • Teasing will get worse before it gets better – encourage the student to persevere and continue to use the strategy
  • Expect the teaser to try again
  • Don’t use verbal comebacks with physically aggressive peers OR with adults (e.g. teacher, parent)
  • Reference

    Laugeson, E.A. (2014). The PEERS® Curriculum for School-Based Professionals: Social Skills Training for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. New York: Routledge.

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School | Home Communication

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Tip of the Month:
January, 2018

In 2012, Zablotsky, Boswell, and Smith conducted a survey with parents of children with ASD regarding their involvement with the school system. The result showed that parents of students with ASD were more likely to attend meetings, talk to the school team, and help with homework. However, these parents are also among the most dissatisfied group when it comes to the level of communication between school and home. The study also showed positive correlation between parental involvement and parental satisfaction with the school system.

Understanding that communication between home and school can have a positive impact on the student’s skill development and on the relationship between parents and teachers, it is essential that an effective and efficient form of communication be established at the beginning of the school year.

An ideal communication tool should be:
• Easy to understand
• Contains all essential information for both school and home
• Quick to complete (less than 5 minutes)

Please see attached for an example of communication sheet. Remember, the communication should be individualized for each student.


Broun, L. (2012 August). Strategies for Effective Home/School Communication. Retrieved from$file/home+and+school+communication.pdf

Zablotsky, B., Boswell, K., & Smith, C. (2012). An evaluation of school involvement and satisfaction of parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. American Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 117(4), 316-330.

Communication Book template160.34 KB

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