Did you know that using schedules can alleviate agitation and promote self-determination for children with autism? It’s true. Parents of children with autism agree that using visuals to explain a child’s schedule makes a big difference in both their children’s home life and educational experiences.

As Catherine Davies notes in her Indiana Resource Center for Autism article, “ … A parent was asked to share the most helpful thing that she had tried with her son (a 15 year old with a diagnosis of high functioning autism). She replied that a visual schedule has been the key to increasing his independence and managing his anxiety.”

Coupled with social stories, visual schedules can help children with autism to thrive in a classroom environment. Social stories feature brief overviews of common social situations, along with tips on how to communicate, respond to cues, and engage in safe behaviors. Visual schedules employ pictures and text to outline a series of planned events.

These tools help students with autism by presenting necessary information in a clear, understandable way. They render abstract concepts concrete, allowing students to focus more easily. They also break down complex tasks into single steps, thereby reducing feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.

Plus, they are useful for an entire class, and teachers use them in both mainstream classrooms and special education settings. In this way, these tools promote an atmosphere of inclusion. Though they’re particularly effective for individuals on the autism spectrum, most students can benefit from them.

As we wrote in our recent post, visual tools “play to the strengths of students with autism, whose cognitive processes often differ from those of neurotypical students. They facilitate greater learning and independence for students on the spectrum because they present information in an accessible format.”

At FirstPath Autism, we’re committed to helping students learn and grow through ABA, but we also realize that what happens outside of an ABA session matters tremendously too.

As such, we’ve put together this list of tools so that you and your family can practice on your own.

In our years of experience as ABA clinicians, we’ve seen that the most effective interventions are simple, direct, and user-friendly. All the tools listed below are available in free as well as paid versions, so you can choose the best option for your child and your budget.

Tool #1: The Head Start Center for Inclusion’s Free Tool Kit 

The University of Washington’s Head Start Center for Inclusion website features a wide array of printable templates designed for teachers and students with autism. The site is a treasure trove of materials designed by professors of early childhood education and special education.

The Head Start Center’s mission is to promote inclusion or “the full and active participation of young children with disabilities in everyday settings,” and their resources empower educators and parents to do just that.

Click here to view and download The Head Start Center for Inclusion’s collection of free stories, and click here to peruse and download their free visual teaching tools such as schedule templates, classroom expectations, emotions charts, and more.

Tool #2: The Autism Speaks Visual Supports Free Tool Kit 

This extensive directory includes links to free online services that allow you to create your own social stories and visual schedules. Most resources are custom-designed for autism families.

For example, you might visit Autiplan and make a free printable or electronic visual schedule, or hop on over to Do2Learn’s Social Skills Toolbox for visual support templates such as behavioral thermometers, circle organizers, decision-making guides, and more.

You can also download Autism Speaks’ free four-page guide for an overview of first-then boards, visually-set parameters, and what to do in case challenging behaviors arise while using visual supports.

Click here to visit Autism Speaks’ website and explore the Visual Supports Tool Kit and resource list.

Tool #3: The TouchAutism Social Stories Creator and Library  

If you’d prefer to use an app, TouchAutism offers one via iTunes. With this tool, you can customize your stories and schedules with your own photos and voice recordings too.

At present, the free version of the app allows you to save two free stories; if you like the interface, you can upgrade to the pro version (predesigned stories are also available for purchase).

If you decide to upgrade, you’ll be able to print, upload, and email your customized stories, making it easier to share them with the rest of your child’s school support team.

Click here to visit the TouchAutism site and download the free Social Stories Creator and Library.

Do you want to facilitate your child’s education and social development? Then pick one of the resources listed above and download a free visual support today.

While you’re at it, take a moment to comment below and share your favorite tool with us! That way, more autism families can find and access these free tools and help their children succeed too!