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Visual schedules at home – making sure they work

If you’ve been following our mini-series of posts for Autism Awareness Week, you’ll already know what a visual schedule is and how it might benefit your child (Visual schedules – what, who and why) and you’ll have thought about what type you’re going to try (Visual schedules at home – choosing the right one).

Now none of that is any use unless you’re able to make it work effectively for you and your child so we’re finishing off with some top tips to making visual schedules work for you.

Start small

You might start with a daily schedule that shows the major events in your child’s day but then you can add a number of mini schedules to target particular tasks or events. Breaking activities or parts of the day down into smaller sections avoids having one schedule that is too long or difficult for your child to follow.

bedtime routineFor example, if you are having difficulty with a particular routine then try a mini schedule just for that activity. A simple way is to make up a sequence of pictures showing the individual steps in the routine and the sequence of them such as this example for a bedtime routine.

Get your child involved

FULL IMAGE FUNThe extent to which you can do this will obviously depend on the age and ability of your child but the more you can involve them in helping to make their own schedules, the more likely they are to take ownership and be committed and motivated towards using them.

This was an important consideration for us when we designed TomTag and we chose bright colours for our tags to encourage children to want to use them. We have also found that TomTag is very tactile and children really enjoy applying the stickers and clicking the buttons into place.

Be consistent – use it every day

It may take a little more effort in the beginning but using a schedule consistently and integrating it into your normal routines is a key factor to success. Have your schedules prominently displayed so that your child can see them in the places they need to use them. Use the schedule to guide your child back to an activity if he wanders away.

Encourage your child to use their schedule by using it as a reference when talking with them about what they have just experienced, what is happening now or what is coming next.

Make sure that the language you use to talk about the schedule matches your child’s level of understanding and, if appropriate, model how to use it by performing the steps yourself.

Review and adapt

SUCCESS!Just because a schedule is working now unfortunately doesn’t mean you can put your feet up and relax! Remember that the aim at the end of the day is more independence so change is a necessary (and welcome) part of the process.

Monitor how your child is using their schedules. If after a few weeks of use they no longer need the same prompts to complete the activity then congratulations! Move on and target another routine or area of difficulty. If on the other hand there’s been no progress with independence, try changing the format of your schedule or reducing the number of steps in it. Do bear in mind any other factors that may be holding things back eg. illness or problems at school and if necessary, wait and try again with the same schedule another time.

Remember to keep schedules up to date and be consistent in showing all the child’s activities especially if there are frequent changes.

Long term benefits

There are many advantages to using visual schedules at home for a child with autism/ASD and their family. As well as the more obvious immediate benefits you will gain, time and effort invested now will bear dividends in later life so be persistent – it is worth it!

The ability to follow a schedule independently is a universal skill that makes many areas of life more accessible, impacting on education (attending school, completing homework, etc), daily living tasks and ultimately employment.

We value the use of schedules at home very much and so we’re delighted that we’ve been able to add a set to our range specifically for this purpose – our I know what to expect at home pack.

 

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Visual schedules at home – choosing the right one

Now that you’ve read about the benefits of using visual schedules at home – what, who and why, you’re ready to move on to finding out more about how to choose the right kind of schedule for your child.

Keep it simple!

keep it simple The most important thing to think about when deciding which type of schedule will best suit your child is that it has to work when they are having a really bad day as well as a good one. That’s the time when you and your child are going to be the most stressed and probably need the support provided by a schedule even more than when things are going well.

Most of us don’t perform to our best when we’re stressed so why would your child? Consider choosing a visual schedule that is easier than you think your child can handle. More complex is not necessarily better – keep your focus on the goal of independent usage.

Object schedules

object schedulesThis is the simplest type of schedule and works well for children with few language skills or who are mostly non-verbal. Tangible objects are chosen to represent activities; for example, a cup for snacktime, a spoon for meals or a shopping bag for trips to the supermarket.

Hand the object to the child to indicate the activity they are moving or transitioning to next. It’s important to make a list of which objects you are going to use to represent each activity and above all, be consistent. Pinterest is a fabulous resource for ideas!

Picture schedules

A child is ready for a picture or photograph schedule when they can consistently match pictures in the same way you would in a simple lotto game. Some children find photographs easier to recognise whilst others can use drawings.

shower TomTag For my own son I started by laminating photographs of real objects and built up a series of activity cards he could follow. I included images of household items such as his clothes and toys as well as places we visited regularly like the park and shops. When he was ready to recognise drawings I used printable pictures from websites such as do2learn.com.

TomTag is a form of picture schedule. From my own experiences of late nights spent printing, cutting and laminating pictures and symbols, I knew when designing TomTag that it had to be an easy to use system where none of that would be necessary. 

Written schedules

written schedule exampleWe use these often in our daily lives although we may not recognise them as such. Diaries, organisers, shopping and task lists are all forms of written schedules. They obviously work best for children who can read but you can transition from picture to visual schedules by adding words alongside the pictures and then gradually work towards replacing them completely.

You might start with a basic written list and cross off items as they are done. As skills emerge, you can move on to more complex written schedules such as day planners and electronic organisers.

 

These are the three main types of schedule you will come across although there are obviously many variations you can create for each type. Sometimes it’s a matter of experimenting with different ones until you find something that’s right for you.

In part 3 Visual schedules at home – making sure they work we’ll share some top tips for using schedules and how best to make them work effectively. 

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Visual schedules at home – what, who and why?

Have you been advised by your child’s school or therapist to use a visual schedule at home and you’re not sure where to start or indeed if it’s really worth the effort?

To coincide with Autism Awareness Week we’re featuring a series of blogs in which we’ll look at the benefits of using visual schedules at home, the different types of schedules you can use and how to get the most out of them. We’ll start by looking at what a visual schedule actually is and why you’d want to use one.

What is a visual schedule?

what is a visual scheduleIn simple terms, any series of pictures, photographs, drawings, words or numbers which depict a sequence of events or activities can be described as a visual schedule or support.

Most of us rely on some form of schedule to help us organise our lives. Think about your calendar, to-do list or a recipe you recently followed; these are all examples of visual schedules that help us remember what we’ll be doing and when things will happen.

We rely on these supports to help us navigate our day-to-day lives and can quickly get anxious if we don’t have them. Think of a time when you’ve misplaced your diary or mobile phone and missed an important meeting or turned up late as a result.

A visual schedule (sometimes referred to as a visual timetable or timeline) for an autistic child is a way of showing them information about daily activities, objects or events using pictures, photographs, symbols or written words.

Who uses visual schedules?

As you can see, in some form or other we all do! In most cases though, we don’t need to use the same sort of visual reminders for the regular and predictable parts of our daily lives.

However, children with autism/ASD often have difficulties dealing with unstructured time and benefit from the increased structure and reassurance provided by a visual schedule. They can feel lost or anxious if daily activities aren’t clearly indicated or a sequence of events is not understood.

Imagine being totally dependent on family and friends to remind you of your daily activities and the frustration you might feel if the information they gave you was inconsistent or difficult to understand. A physical visual support provides consistency and avoids the transiency of verbal instructions.

Why use visual schedules at home?

Research has shown that many children with ASD have strong visual skills and that visual schedules are one of the most effective interventions for these children. Visual learners are more likely to remember and understand what they see than what they hear and a visual schedule can also reinforce verbal instructions that may have been missed or forgotten.

Most children will be used to seeing visual timetables and prompts at school that show the class what to expect during the school day and how to navigate around the classroom.

I know what at home collage OU smaller

For children with autism and other learning difficulties, it can be even more important to use visual schedules at home than at school. Whilst the school day is largely based on routine the same structure doesn’t usually happen at home and this can often lead to tantrums and meltdowns.

Using a visual schedule at home can help to:

  • establish clear expectations and prevent behaviour problems
  • reduce anxiety about what is happening next
  • increase self-help skills
  • develop independence which fosters self-esteem
  • reduce the amount of time spent leading an over-dependent child through activities

Sounds like a lot of effort – is it worth it?

There are clearly many advantages to using visual schedules but we know from experience that getting started and persevering can be a daunting and time consuming task.

These days there’s certainly plenty of information and resources available online and elsewhere but finding the right thing for you and your child amongst it all can be a challenge. Where do you start?

In part 2 Visual schedules at home – choosing the right one we’ll be looking at different types of visual schedules and how to choose the most suitable one for you and your child. 

In part 3 Visual schedules at home – making sure they work we’ll share some top tips for using your schedule and how best to make it work effectively.

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10 ways to have fun with occupational therapy

Occupational Therapy Week took place last week and it prompted me to reflect on the occupational therapy (OT) my son has received over the past few years. Gulp… it’s also focused my mind on the amount of money I’ve spent on buying OT resources!

The main emphasis for my son has been Sensory Integration Therapy to help him cope with his sensory difficulties, with activities focusing on developing gross and fine motor skills and his sensory perception (i.e. touch, body awareness, balance, auditory & visual skills).

Naturally some activities and resources have proved more successful than others so we thought it would be helpful to select our TOP 10 to share with you.

1. HUG & TUG

hug and tug

This simple exercise can calm anxiety, increase concentration and help develop fine motor skills. Just needs two hands and can be done at any time!

Visit the Handle Institute page for details of the exercise.

 2. SCOOTER BOARD

At his last school my son cut quite a dash scooting along the corridor propelled by his arms! Great for building up shoulder stability and core strength.

Sensory Direct have some reasonably priced boards.

3. ANIMAL ACTION CARDS

card exercise  1

Make a set of cards showing different animal walks then take it in turns to choose a card and complete the exercise shown on it. Try dog walks, bunny hops, kangaroo jumps, crab walks – whatever takes your fancy. Great for building upper body strength and a sense of humour!

This is a good activity to do with siblings and as a rainy day or birthday party game.

Stuck for ideas? Pop over to the blog Pinning With Purpose for some good tips on how to make your own animal exercise cards.

4. TIME SHOCK

time shock puzzle

Have you got a steady hand? This frantic beat-the-clock game is great for developing fine motor skills and also uses visual memory.

The aim of the game is to place the shapes in the matching slot before the time runs out. Need nerves of steel though and can get competitive!

5. POP-UP TUNNEL

play tunnel

Crawling helps develop shoulder stability which is important for writing skills. This simple item also offers hours of fun playing peek-a-boo which encourages eye contact.

IKEA, Tesco, ELC and the like all have similar versions.

6. PUTTY

Great for developing hand muscle strength. You could even try making your own putty.

Fledglings have are some lovely reasonably-priced Rainbow Putty which comes in a variety of different colours and is colour-coded to indicate the level of resistance.

7. HIDDEN TREASURE

sensory bean box

Fill a tub with rice or another pulse and hide small objects such as toy cars, figurines or sweets. Great to develop fine motor skills and another fun party game.

8. SWING

cuddle swing

Swinging is good for vestibular movement. My son particularly liked this cuddle swing.

They can be expensive to buy so here’s some tips on how to make your own cuddle swing and there’s even some ideas for versions that don’t need attaching to the ceiling.

9. CRAFT ACTIVITY

There are plenty of options here – we chose to make our own dominoe game using card, craft foam, marker pens and stickers.

There were lots of opportunities to practice fine motor skills with all that cutting, sticking and drawing and we all enjoyed playing the finished result.

10. CHEWY TUBE

chewy aid

Our bright red T-shaped Chewy Tube saved many a shirt cuff and tie being shredded! Very resilient and helps develop chewing skills as well as reducing anxiety. Fledglings and Rosy & Bo both have a good range of oral motor aids to choose from.

 

Find out more about what occupational therapsits do and how occupational therapy can hep by visiting the British Association of Occupatinal Therapists website www.cot.co.uk

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Fine motor skills

Fumbling in my purse for loose change today, I’m reminded how important fine motor skills are for daily life.

What are ‘fine motor skills’?

Fine motor skills are the small muscle movements in the body. They enable activities such as writing, grasping small objects and fastening clothes. Children who have a weakness in fine motor skills struggle to develop strong muscles in their fingers, hands and wrists. They may also have poor eye-hand coordination.

Why are fine motor skills important?

Problems with fine motor skills can have a detrimental effect on education and impact on life in general. For example, the ability to hold a fork and eat, write legibly and complete personal self care tasks such as washing and dressing all depend on the coordination of small actions.

My own son still struggles with pen & paper tasks, his ability to tie shoe laces remains a work in progress, not to mention the hours of frustration spent battling with fiddly zips!

What can I do if my child needs help?

There are lots of inexpensive resources and ideas to help strengthen fine motor skills.

Drawing, colouring and craft activities can all help build these skills in a fun, informal way.

We’re lucky to have Star Tree Studio nearby who host a range of craft and creative classes (as well as art & craft birthday parties) where kids can ‘play-create-learn’ without messing up the house! Check out your local free papers and family magazines to find something similar in your area.

The imagination tree has a great blog post ’40 fine motor skills activities’

OT Mom Learning Activities has some useful suggestions for fine motor activities for older kids

Make it fun

Kids learn best when they don’t realise they’re learning! For example, we always recommend that children are involved with putting together their own TomTag ready to use. As well as helping them to understand their own routine it is a very tactile and fun activity that can help strengthen fine motor skills. Peeling off and sticking stickers onto buttons requires hand-eye coordination and pincher grip – both important for writing. Hand and finger muscles come into play too when clicking buttons into tags and removing them.

Zip it up!

Getting hold of a zipper to fasten up a jacket, bag or pencil case can be incredibly difficult for children with fine motor difficulties. We’ve now got funky zip pulls to help with those fiddly zips!

We’re giving them away free right now to anyone who recommends TomTag to a friend who then places an order.

We’d also recommend Zipz by MERU – colourful, ergonomically designed zip pulls which are also great for glove wearers: skiers, bikers, winter & outdoor activities lovers.

 

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Let’s celebrate occupational therapy!

This week – 3rd to 9th Nov – the UK’s 30,000 occupational therapists are celebrating Occupational Therapy Week 2013.

love OTOccupational therapy enables people to live more independent and rewarding lives and occupational therapists are the skilled professionals who help people achieve this goal.

Occupational Therapy Week has made me reflect on the huge difference occupational therapy has made to the life of my autistic son Tom over the last 6 years. For Tom, ‘occupation’ refers to daily occupation i.e. the ability to participate in everyday life. Like many children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Tom has a sensory processing disorder which can make everyday tasks overwhelming, such as coping with classroom noise, the feel of certain fabrics or standing in a queue for lunch. He also has difficulties with both gross motor and fine motor activities such as handwriting.
OT steps
We have worked closely with an occupational therapist (OT) to identify strategies and interventions to help Tom. Activities to improve his motor skills development and reduce his sensory processing disorder have been built into a daily programme and we are very lucky that Tomas is able to follow this programme at school before lessons start. His teachers report that he is able to learn and concentrate better after his occupational therapy sessions. He also follows a ‘Chill Out’ programme devised by his OT to help him overcome any anxiety he faces throughout the school day.

 

Six years on and I’m very proud of the progress Tom has made and hugely grateful to the occupational therapists who have helped him to carry out activities he needs or wants to do. Now I just need to dig out that ‘Chill Out’ programme for myself!

OT-Week-2013-lozenge-carousFind out more about what occupational therapists do and how occupational therapy can help by visiting the British Association of Occupational Therapists’ website www.cot.co.uk.

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Good practice is good practice (Sensory Stories with Joanna Grace)

Joanna Grace is a special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities consultant who writes educational resources and sensory stories for individuals with SEN. Recently Joanna successfully ran The Sensory Story Project, to create a set of self resourcing sensory stories that parents, as well as teachers, could afford to buy. Orkid Ideas are proud to have been one of the backers of The Sensory Story Project. We invited Joanna to talk about the overlap between provision for children with special needs and provision for mainstream children and we’re delighted to share her thoughts with you here.

Good practice for children with special needs is good practice for all children

Many of the teaching methods and resources used in mainstream schools currently were originally developed for children with special needs. Classrooms have visual time tables, teachers think about the different learning styles of their pupils: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and nursery schools sign with their tots.

It makes sense that anything which amplifies learning for a child with special needs will also amplify learning for mainstream children. Meeting the challenges to learning for children presented by special needs enriches provision for all, it’s one of the wonderful effects inclusion has for all children.

I write sensory stories for individuals with profound and multiple learning difficulties for whom they offer the opportunity to engage with a range of sensory stimuli, develop their confidence, communication and increase their opportunities for socialising as well as giving their carers insight into ways of personalising their care. They’re a great resource and so much fun, and they work well with children who do not have any special needs.

joanna grace chocolate
Joanna touching a vat of hot melted chocolate whilst eating melted chocolate – one of her favourite sensory experiences!

Cognitive development, for all of us, relies on sensory stimulation. If we use our senses when we learn more of our brain is involved in our learning, quite literally more of it; and if more is involved then we’ve more chance of remembering.

A sensory story combines a concise narrative (typically less than 10 sentences) with a sequence of sensory experiences. I have written stories about the birth of stars in stellar nurseries, about the history of Victorian feminism, about fantasy adventures and about every day activities. I’ve written stories for Worldstories, Booktrust, Kensington Palace, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and lots more lovely organisations.

You can pack a lot of information into a small number of words; and you can also unpack all that information from a small number of words. When I revised for my exams at school I would take notes, and then take notes on my notes, and notes on my notes etc. Eventually I’d end up with a few sentences from which I could generate everything I knew about a topic. If those sentences had been accompanied by sensory stimuli I’d have been even more likely to remember them, and the process of revision would have been more fun.

It is good for everyone to recognise that communication isn’t solely reliant on language. Children who don’t have special needs can still struggle with speaking in public, or organising their thoughts into language. Think of that adage: a picture speaks a thousand words. Through using sensory stimuli to tell a story children who aren’t quite as adept at verbal communication can speak thousands upon thousands of words, through smells, tastes, touches, sights and sounds.

I’ve had lovely conversations with young people in mainstream nursery, primary and secondary schools, and yes – even a few universities, who’ve enjoyed learning in a sensory way and have begun to consider who these stories might have been written for. They can be a great tool for disability awareness.

The best thing about sensory stories is that they are fun. We all enjoy learning more (or escaping into that special place created by stories) if it’s fun. You can find out more at http://jo.element42.org