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visual timetables do all ASD children need them?

(22 Posts)
grumpyoldeeyore Tue 22-Sep-09 21:30:09

Having a dilemma re visual timetables. Can't decide whether DS3 (2.10) really needs one or whether it just gets suggested because most ASD children do find them useful and it helps classrooms run more efficiently. DS3 understands verbal instructions - follows those he likes - ignores those he doesn't want to do. He can answer yes and no to an activity. He doesn't get upset or anxious about things, no problems with not knowing what comes next - he just goes with whatever comes along and if he doesn't like it hides under a blanket. When he has to do an unpreferred activity he protests for a few seconds then gets on with it. He doesn't mind change or transitions. He doesn't need things done the same way or in the same order. We live in a fairly chaotic house where we never know what we are going to do from morning to afternoon so planning ahead would be a massive change for everyone and not very practical. I don't have a problem with using visual supports if I feel he did not understand - but the nursery are being told to do a timetable and he has to take each symbol - which apparently he will be "compelled" to do because we are working with his rigidity (not sure this will be the case!) - and take it to the next activity and then post it in a finished box when the activity ends. We are going to be using symbols for PECS which I can see the point off although his language is coming now. The PECS course talked alot about fading out prompts as quick as you can - isn't a timetable used in this way just the biggest prompt ever and when I have looked around schools they seem to be used forever not faded out - which makes me wonder what happens when ASD kids leave school and there is no routine. I don't have a problem even with a whole class visual timetable, but I'm wondering whether I am missing the point of the individual one with the finished box etc for my son - or whether it just suggests the plan is not very personalised to my son. Would I be making life more difficult by imposing this sort of predictability when he doesn't seem to mind life being unpredictable?

moondog Tue 22-Sep-09 22:07:55

It's a good and very relevant question.

I think visual supports help everyone, but they are increasingly seen as a one-size-fits-all intervention for kids with ASD.

A visual timetable isn't PECS though. PECS is, if you like, a voice for the child, the other stuff is a way of heightmening understanding.

The other issue with visual timetables is that they are relaint on a teacher or 1:1 assistnat using them or supervising use of them properly and 9 times out of 10, this isn't done, rendering thme pointless (I very often go somewhere and the celandar hasn't been changed for weeks or days.

It's good that your child is compliant and not resistant to change. Even a child is, there are ways of building flexibility into a timetable.

This is an excellent and undemanding read on using visual support which i recommend highly (I'm a SALT who uses a great deal of this sort of thing).

PerryPlatypus Tue 22-Sep-09 22:29:34

My ds1 and ds2 both used visual timetables but for different reasons. Ds1 had one because he could only cope if he knew what was coming next. Ds2 had one as a means of encouraging him to carry out an activity even if it wasn't something he wanted to do. Basically if it was on the timetable he knew that it had to be done.

They are now both at a mainstream school. Ds1 (9) no longer uses a visual timetable. His teacher tells them what they will be doing next. If it's something that is very different to the norm then he is told in advance so that it's not such a big surprise, eg if PE is going to be cancelled because of a visitor coming in to talk to the class.

Ds2 (6) no longer has an individual timetable. The teacher uses one for the whole class but that's about it.

I think I would give the timetable a try at nursery but if it doesn't help then ditch the idea.

One problem that did crop up with the timetable was that it didn't always fit in with the foundation stage (or whatever it's called these days) policy that children should be able to choose their own activities. The compromise was to lay out the symbols on the desk, let ds choose which ones he wanted to do and then put it on the timetable. It wasn't ideal though tbh.

moondog Tue 22-Sep-09 22:43:06

Perry, this point is really important too

'Ds2 had one as a means of encouraging him to carry out an activity even if it wasn't something he wanted to do. Basically if it was on the timetable he knew that it had to be done.'

Kids need to learn that some things are non negotiable and others are (I was discussing this very same strategy with some peopel I work with last week).

I'm not at all happy about the 'free for all' of the Foundation stage for kids with difficulties with organising and understanding the day.

huffyhuffystompstomprahrahrah Wed 23-Sep-09 09:01:20

Visual time tables and activity schedules are often used to promote independence too - they can be used to structure leisure activities, self-help routines, free time, some people can even use visual schedules for time management e.g they can set their own timer for t.v watching etc, and then know when they have to move onto bed time routines.

But, there should be an end goal which the nursery/s&lt should be able to explain. If he doesn't need help with classroom routines and can take group instructions etc, and there is no 'long term' independence goal, then it maybe that they are just doing what they are 'supposed to do'.


tingler Wed 23-Sep-09 09:22:47

Grumpy, I'm off to discuss the very issue of visual aids with my SALT and paed this morning and will post later. Same dillemma on whole-class versus own timetable. Would really like to talk about this with you all.

But will just quickly say that I bought the book moondog recomends. It is excellent. I particularly liked the introductory chapter because it answers precisely the questions you have put to us.

But it took me three reads of those chapters to "get it". And I don't think my nursery will truly "get it" unless I can have them to read the book too. As women we all (me and the TAs and teachers) are so verbal that we don't even notice the visuals that are structuring DS2's days. And I suspect it's this "not getting it" that's behind the widespread failure to use the visuals that moondog reports.

If our schoolteachers were all engineers and engineering students, you would see a very different classroom I suspect - full of calendars, spider charts, and everything in different colours......and many many fewer words.

DoNotPressTheRedButton Wed 23-Sep-09 09:40:23

Your ds sounds a bit like my ds3 in terms of eprsonality, more of a passive autistic type.

Ds3 doesn't need a VT but I ahve noticed as he gets older that he still finds immense reassurance in having the option of one- he has one with velcro symbols and likes to fiddle with them himself to get them in order (he's 6 now) and I do feel that there is a level of comfort there for him, school used to say it was pointless him having one but it seems to reduce anxiety levels.

As a rule I beleive that every class should have a VT- simple good practice IMVHO. However I think how chidlren with asd use them as individuals varies.

With the PEcs- ds3 had a few words at 4 when we started using PECs and the system made a marvellous difference. (BTW if you CAt me I can let you have a proper PECs portable foler we have spare, just let me know if you want it)

brokenspacebar Wed 23-Sep-09 11:20:38

I like the sound of that book, but is it really worth the money? I might buy it, and have it available for ds's teachers...though I might ask the school/salt if they have it already?

Ds has a visual time table available, but is not following one atm, the teacher feels that if he is working okay without one then he doesn't need one - she is happy to do this.

DoNotPressTheRedButton Wed 23-Sep-09 11:22:17

What about asking yur library to order it in? usually only costs a few quid.

TotalChaos Wed 23-Sep-09 15:52:23

or it's possible to order books to your local library via the british library, my mum has done that in the past, will ask her how that works.

interesting point Moondog re:lack of structure and reception. The very capable Hanen course SALT who saw secondary school m/s kids felt that secondary school was in some ways easier to manage for kids with language problems, as the day was so much more clearly structured.

DS never had a visual timetable (no ASD Dx, but language delay and visual learner). In hindsight I think it would have been useful before he could get his head round simple sequences - so the "school, then playground, OK?" phase might have been shortened a bit.

Littlefish Wed 23-Sep-09 16:02:43

In my classroom last year, we had two visual timetables. There was one for the whole class which helped to support many of our visual learners, and those with organisational difficulties to understand what was happening during the day. In fact, although it was set up for a minority of the class, the majority of the class used it as a point of reference during the day.

Additionally, a child with autism had an individual visual timetable which was used to help both us and him manage his resistance to certain points in the day - e.g. number work and guided reading. He worked with his TA each morning to make his own visual timetable and it gave them a chance to talk about what would be happening in each session. It also made it non-negotiable once it was on the chart which made the actual transitions much smoother for everyone.

sc13 Wed 23-Sep-09 16:12:14

I agree with the mums who said visual helpers have to be tailored to the child. We experimented a bit and now have:
- a first/then table which we mostly use to get DS to do something he wouldn't normally do (drawing) followed by a preferred activity
- a calendar (this was Moondog's advice to another mum a while back), to help him gradually understand time, the week and the week-end, etc.
- a timetable with no more than 5 pictures, which we use so he understands what we're doing that day
So far, they've been brilliant. After months of calendar, DS 'gets' Friday as a special day and Monday as the day when he goes back to nursery and can count down to holidays, grandparents' visits, etc. (THANKS MOONDOG)
The first/then table generally works, as long as you keep the 'first' short (the SALT advised brilliantly on this).
As for the timetable, it has actually helped DS to talk, because he can say what each picture is and build little sentences. Plus, we read it as a kind of story at the end of the day.
Main downsides? Nursery uses timetable, but not in the same way; making the helpers up in the right way is time-consuming, unless you are brilliant at drawing

MoonlightMcKenzie Wed 23-Sep-09 17:20:19

My ds sounds like yours OP. Exactly the same age too.

Apparently he is a visual learner because he is autistic, but nobody had given me a scrap of evidence to support this assumption and it is driving me nuts.

FWIW I think that visuals for all young children are a brilliant thing. However I am worried (in my own particular case) that people are just shouting 'visual support' so they can tick their boxes that they have 'done something' so I am resisting and challenging quite a bit.

I don't want to see reports of 'visual timetable introduced' and then six months down the line 'visual timetable understood' when there was no evidence that it was needed, and in any case my ds could have learned the system in 5 minutes if it was done right and was meaningful for him.

I am also worried that the 'assumption' of visual learning will detract from them trying other ways of getting him to understand the world. His receptive language is lagging and he needs practice. IF the visual support is done carefully with the aim of supporting his receptive language development then that's fantastic. If it is done to negate the need for him to practise his receptive language then that is VERY BAD.

Also, I think that introducing pictures and symbols without fully assessing the child's understanding in the first place wastes valuable time. You probably have to start at the beginning with these things but you need to know where you are going and aim to get there as quickly as possible so you can start to enhance learning rather than just teach some watered-down version of things they already understand.

Sorry, bit of a rant. Perhaps I should buy the recommended book.

moondog Wed 23-Sep-09 17:52:02

You are dead right Moonlight.
Hit the nail on the head.

Pendulum has swung the other way in many respects. After years of getting people to use visual support (made so much easier by IT advances) we now have situation of complete overload of pully thought out eratically used and improperly assessed symbol systems.

Tingler, re this

'If our schoolteachers were all engineers and engineering students, you would see a very different classroom I suspect - full of calendars, spider charts, and everything in different colours......and many many fewer words.'

Yes yes yes!!! I was discussing this very point today with a fairly new teacher with a background in science. This person will I am convinced 'get' this stuff much faster than the 'but teaching is an art!' brigade.

moondog Wed 23-Sep-09 17:55:04

SC, really glad the calendar is working for you.

That is a big step. smile

MoonlightMcKenzie Wed 23-Sep-09 18:07:36

Thank you moondog I have an excellent mentor wink

Actually, now that I've said that my name looks creepy!

moondog Wed 23-Sep-09 18:10:42


'pully' = 'poorly' obviously.

It's been a looooooong day at work (and thesis due in in 2 days and ds ill with chicken pox).

tingler Wed 23-Sep-09 18:11:35

Moonlight, I think you would find the book helpful, I really, do (how's the singing?). I know you like to question and analyse the purpose of advised actions, as I do, and it really addresses the "what are we doing this for?" question. In fact I would go further - I wouldn't want the visual timetable without having taught the teachers "why" they are using it (have already thrust the book at them needless to say).

If your child has a receptive language problem but no problem understanding what he sees, then they call that being a visual learner. It doesn't mean you have some special extra visual-learning unit in your brain!

Grumpy, I don't think a timetable is a "prompt" that has to be faded. I think we use timetables (in the form of electronic diaries and calendars) throughout our lives and especially in our working lives and that these could be particular useful upon leaving school (getting that supermarket shop and laundry load diarised would certainly help me).

Going back to the whole class versus individual timetable issue. Our SALT has suggested DS2 have own individual timetable. Our nursery manager hates this idea as DS2 (i) has no problems planning (ii) needs to be with his peers not taken away to a special room and (iii)is rapidly improving in his ability to enjoy the variety of activities on offer during free play.

Needless to say, our nursery manager is too polite to challenge the SALT and has instead quietly dropped the whole visuals thing, leaving guess-who? to bang their heads together and get things done.

I have put these points bluntly to SALT today who has said she is happy with a whole-class model provided her view on his planning abilities matches nursery managers' and mine when she next observes him. This time last year, (he's now 4.1) visuals really helped him choose his activities and deal with less-preferred activities. Now he is ready for different and more complex visuals.

grumpyoldeeyore Fri 25-Sep-09 17:45:55

Thanks for all your replies. It confirmed what I was thinking that using visual supports when needed was the way to go but the slave to the timetable suggestion was a bit heavy handed. Thanks for the offer of PECS pictures but I don't need any as DS is amazing everyone with his language progress right now so PECS is on hold until the SALT re-evaluates - so feel free to offer them elsewhere.

catski Sat 26-Sep-09 13:13:21

I'm undecided on this. It has been pushed on us recently in the manner of 'Your son is autistic and therefore he will need and must have one' without, I feel, actually considering the individual. He understands verbal communications, he has no problem with change, so I'm thinking if it ain't broke don't fix it. I don't want him or us to become a slave to The Timetable, which we managed perfectly well without beforehand.

The only reason I might introduce one is to introduce the concept of time (in the mornings you go to nursery, in the afternoons you are with mum, at nighttime you go to bed, at the weekends you are with mum and dad sort of thing - keeping it as simple as poss). I know they use a class one at nursery (it is a mainstream nursery), but not individual ones.

sickofsocalledexperts Sat 26-Sep-09 14:49:43

I agree with much of what has been said: I think it is a stock response of all the so-called professionals in the autism world "he's autistic, therefore he's a visual learner, therefore he must need a visual timetable". I have absolutely stuck my neck out and said no, he needs to learn to use words as that is the common currency is this world. It has not made me popular, and I can now see the point of visual timetable's for teaching days of the week ("on Thursday you have swimming") but come the day when he's 18, or when god forbid he is alone in the world, a PECs book and a pic timetable is not going to help him, but words are, if it is at all possible for him to learn to speak. Sorry, this one's a bit of a bugbear of mine. I remember in the early days a teacher insisting on showing my son a pic of a toilet before taking him there. In vain did I tell her that he knew the word, so why not just ask him "do you want the toilet" but no, she was totally inflexible and insisted that he "needs the picture as he's a visual learner". Bollocks imho.

fillimum Sat 26-Sep-09 15:56:27

(disclaimer - I am a few glasses of wine in so firgive the spelling) Everything that has been said so far is spot on! ALL children in my experience benefit from some form of visual timetable, especially at pre-school) BUT ALL visual timetables for ASD kids MUST be 'owned' by the child. They are the ones who should move the things around, remove what has been done and look at what is coming next. IF your child's TA or EA or special helper or whatever is the one manipulating it then there is no test to see whether it helps them or not. If the helper is always the one managing it then who knows how much he needs it or likes it? Give it a go and ask them to MEASURE its success and they should be able to show you within a month if it helps him or not! The 'visual learner' thing may or may not be bullshit. All staff should have training on thier own understanding of how visuals help them in their own life and then be able to apply that to children. Ask them to remove it for a week and see what difference it makes TO HIM (not to them) and judge it on that.

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