A visual timetable presents the abstract concept of time in a concrete form. The timetable communicates to the person with an autistic spectrum disorder when events/activities will take place and what will come next in a clear, stable, concrete and uncluttered manner. This strategy assists them in predicting and planning. Successful implementation of a visual timetable will often decrease challenging behaviours due to the increase in effective communication.
There are several steps to implementing an effective individual visual timetable. The first step is to assess the individual’s level of understanding of different forms of visual communication. If, for example, the individual understands some photos, but generally is at an object level, the schedule may consist of a combination of objects and photos. As the individual demonstrates understanding of the objects, they may be paired with the photo to teach the individual the meaning of the photo. The object may be faded or removed when the individual is able to demonstrate understanding of the photo.
The hierarchy of visual communication (least abstract to most abstract):
- Objects (whole object, miniature object, partial object)
- Picture symbols
- Written words
Once the type of visual communication has been selected, the timetable can be constructed. Specific information should first be considered:
- How the timetable will be used?
- Where it will be managed?
- Who will manage it?
- How will the individual transition between the timetable and the activities/places on the timetable?
The timetable should be easy to create and use, accessible to the individual, durable, inexpensive, flexible, visually clear (free of unnecessary details and decoration) and appropriate to the age and skill level of the individual. Depending upon the skill level of the individual, the schedule may need to be presented in parts rather than the whole day at once.
The individual may need the timetable posted on the wall or may be able to carry the timetable on a keyring with them wherever they go. The timetable may be arranged left to right or top to bottom. The variety of materials that can be used to create a timetable is endless. Individual timetables may look very different and be implemented very differently depending upon the person using it.
Mini-timetables are used to supplement the daily timetable. For example, the daily timetable indicates that it is time for reading class. The mini-timetable tells the student that he is going to 1) read a book, 2) listen to the teacher, and 3) do a worksheet. When the student has completed the activities on the mini-timetable, he is prompted to transition back to the daily timetable.