By Raising Children Network
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At a glance: Visual schedules
Type of therapy
The claim
Helps children with autism to understand the world by building on their strong visual learning and thinking style
Suitable for
Children with autism
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Not yet reviewed by our research sources.

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration.

0-10 The time commitment for this therapy depends on the specific needs of the child.

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week.

$0-30 Cost varies depending on whether the visual supports have been purchased or homemade, and whether a professional has been consulted for assistance. After the initial outlay, there is very little ongoing cost.
Visit the Autism Service Pathfinder to browse Service Providers information.

About this intervention

What is it?
‘Visual supports’, ‘visual strategies’ and ‘visual cues’ are general terms for tools that present information using symbols, photographs, written words and objects.

One of the most common visual supports is a visual schedule. This is a set of pictures that show activities or the steps of a specific activity. For example, a schedule can show all the activities in a single day, or all the steps involved in a specific activity, such as eating a meal.

Who is it for?
This approach is for children with autism.

What is it used for?
Visual supports and strategies are used to help children with autism improve their skills in processing information, using language, and understanding and interacting with their physical and social environments.

Visual schedules can have many purposes. For example, you can use them to give a child a way to know what’s happening next, to signal a change to the normal routine, or to help a child do tasks without being told what to do by a grown-up.

Where does it come from?
Pictures and visual aids of various kinds have been used in supporting learning and communication for many years.

What is the idea behind it?
Children with autism can have trouble paying attention to and understanding the information they hear. Autism experts say that many people with autism respond best to information that’s presented visually. People with high-functioning autism say this too.

When children with autism know what’s going to happen next, it can cut down on their feelings of anxiety, as well as other behaviour such as severe tantrums and repetitive questioning.

What does it involve?
Visual materials – such as objects or drawings representing each step of a routine or each activity – are placed in sequence to communicate that routine or activity.

The child is taught to use the visual schedule, finishing one step at a time while checking the visual aids. Then, gradually, adult help is decreased until the child can follow the sequence independently.

Cost considerations
You might need to pay a fee if you consult a professional such as a psychologist, speech pathologist or occupational therapist for help with designing visual schedules and putting them into action. The costs of visits to these professionals might be covered for up to 20 sessions by Medicare, depending on whether the professional is a registered Medicare provider. Some private health funds might cover some of the consultation fee. This can be claimed immediately if the provider has HICAPS.

You’ll also need to pay for materials to make the schedules, or buy ready-made schedules. 

Does it work?
This therapy hasn’t been rated yet, but studies have shown positive outcomes. Visual symbols are undoubtedly useful as part of broader interventions focusing on the child’s development and education.

Who practises this method?
Visual schedules can be made by anybody. The technique doesn’t need any training or qualifications. Some parents might find it helpful to consult their child’s speech pathologist, occupational therapist or psychologist about visual schedules for their child’s particular needs.

Parent education, training, support and involvement
Parents are involved in constructing schedules for their child and using the schedules at home or in the community.

Where can I find a practitioner?
Contact your state autism association and ask them to recommend a service or practitioner.

If your child attends an early childhood intervention service or a specialist school, the staff there might also use visual schedules.

Some psychologists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists have experience using visual schedules. You can find:

  • Last updated or reviewed 16-08-2011