Frequently Asked Questions about Visual Schedules
Frequently Asked Questions about visual schedules blog post

Visual Schedules

Using visual schedules in your special education classroom is one of the vital components of being a special education teacher.  Students with disabilities need these visual schedules every day in order to become successful.

I wanted to take the opportunity today to address some of the most common questions that I get throughout the year regarding visual schedules.

If you would like to read more about visual schedules, you can read this blog post all about the importance of using visual schedules.

What kind of visual schedule do my students need?

Using the right type of visual schedule can, quite honestly, make or break your classroom.  Students crave routine, especially those that are on the Autism spectrum.  They need to know what is coming next and visual schedules can help provide this much-needed structure.

Honestly, there are so many different types of schedules out there.  They come in many different variations, you just need to pick the one that best meets the needs of your students.  And remember, you don't have to pick just one specific type for your entire classroom.  Choose the visual schedule that matches the student's needs.

Read on in this other blog post about the top 10 types of visual schedules that I have used in my classroom. 

first then chart with a time timer
This is a time timer clock that I use as a visual

Do all of my students need schedules?

The simple answer to this question is YES!   Many of us adults are using visual schedules all day long, and we don't even register that they are visual schedules.  The calendar on our phones that tell us when dance practice is and when to pick up the dry cleaning is a visual schedule!   

Many students with disabilities are often struggling with executive functioning skills such as organization, time management, and planning.  Students will thrive once they can predict what is coming next! I have used the above time timer clock as a great visual for this!

Should my students check their schedules all the time?

Every time there is a change in activity, students should be checking their schedules.  Especially for students in primary grades.   However, I have had students at the secondary level who have memoried their schedules and this can work too!  

Remember, you know your students best!

student doing independent work systems

How should I teach my students to use their schedules?

Students need to be taught explicitly how to use their schedules.  They need to understand how to manipulate the icons and where the schedule is located.  They also need to be taught how to transition through the school day.  

When you first begin to teach students to use their schedules, you will want to keep your prompts at a minimum so that students don't become prompt-dependent.

Make sure that you are standing directly behind the student when you are prompting them so that you can date the prompts quicker.  Use minimum language to teach using visual schedules.   You don't want to say” Ok Johnny look what you have next, oh how fun, you have snack time next”

Make the language more simple.  Just point to the snack time icon and say” snack time”, and then move the student to the snack location in the room.  This will promote student independence.

Once the student has mastered how to use the schedule, you can fade all adult support. 

real image visual schedule for students with special needs

How long should the student's schedule be?

You know your students the best.  If you think the student is unable to handle looking at a full day visual schedule, then of course you can make it any length that you think will work.  If the student can only handle a quarter-day schedule, then try covering up some or part of the schedule with index cards, sticky notes, or painter's tape. 

You can also decide how the schedule will be presented.  vertically or horizontally?

real image visual schedule for students with special needs

Where do I put the schedule?

The location of the schedule will greatly depend on the needs of the students and the space of the environment. 

When you are first starting to teach the students how to use the schedule, you can start by bringing the schedule to the students.  In addition, when the students become more familiar with the visual schedule, it's okay to start posting the schedule in an area in the classroom where students have access to it.    This can be a central location in the classroom, such as a wall, a desk, on the side of a shelf, or even on a door!    Some students carry a portable schedule with them.   Also, I have seen schedules in a binder or clipboard as well. 

teacher helping a student with work

Can I change the schedule once the student has seen it?

Yes, you can change it but you want to make sure that the child is involved in the change.  In addition, you want to make sure that you are teaching the student flexibility in the schedule but making planned changes in the schedule. 

Schedules can be very rigid but if we teach students to use them effectively and teach them flexibility, they won't have to be so controlling over their lives.   When students are using a visual schedule, we can teach them flexibility!

Its not what type of visual schedule the student is using it's how we are using it that matters. 

Token board with in of reinforcers

When can my student stop using schedules?

You should never stop using visual schedules with your students, they should be evolving.  As your students get older, it is a good idea to adjust their schedules to their abilities.  One of the biggest mistakes that I see, is teachers keeping the same types of schedules for their students for YEARS!!


If you are looking for some visual aids to help in your classroom, check out this resource that I have called Visual Aids!

I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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