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Everything You Need To Know About Activity Schedules

6 blog avatar 1 Everything You Need To Know About Activity Schedules
Expert Name:  Michele LaMarche, BCBA
Expert Title: BCBA
Company Name:  Founder, Step by Step Academy
Company URL: http://stepbystepacademy.org/
Short Bio: Michele received her BCBA certification from the University of North Texas and is currently working on her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Walden University. She is also the co-founder of Special Learning, Inc.
Everything You Need To Know About Activity Schedules

Activity schedules are meant to help people understand and manage the daily events in their lives. They are visual supports that teach a person to transition from one activity to another activity independently. Children with autism frequently have trouble with changes in routine, paying attention to vocal instructions alone, and self-monitoring. Almost as if to compensate, some children autism have strengths in rote memory and the ability to understand visual information (7). Activity schedules take advantage of these strengths by efficiently communicating information that allows children to better predict and plan within their environment (2,3,6). Most behavioral problems associated with children with autism seem to stem from a limited communication repertoire. In other words they are not able to tell you their wants or needs.

What is an Activity Schedule?

  • An activity schedule consists of pictures or words that describe a sequence of activities.
  • Activity schedules may be created using photographs, pictures, written words, or physical objects.
  • A picture schedule can be in a binder, on a white board, a Velcro strip, etc.
  • A written schedule can be a list of the activities for the day.
  • An activity schedule will give the person the following information:
  1. What is currently happening;
  2. What is coming up next (the sequence of events);
  3. When they are “all done” with something;
  4. Any changes that might occur.

What are the benefits of activity schedules?

  • It is a way to prompt behavior without a person being present.
  • Ideally, they communicate clear expectations for the person and decrease the need for constant instructional staff involvement in the activity.
  • Most activity schedules are introduced with instructional staff guidance that gradually decreases with time.
  • Activity Schedules can be modified to develop along with the learner.

         – Picture schedules à written schedules à to-do lists à schedule planners

  1. Choice can be taught and the learner can assist in selecting and creating their daily schedule.
  2. Most people seem to enjoy the use of schedules and appear to be excited to see what will be coming next (3,4).

Does it work?

  • Many studies have demonstrated that activity schedules are effective in helping students with developmental disabilities, specifically children diagnosed with autism.
  • These studies show activity schedules to be effective in helping students to gain independence and increase on-task behavior at school, at home, and in community settings (1,2,6,8).
  • In younger students, this can translate into improved play skills, and a decrease in disruptive and aggressive behavior (5,6).
  • Specifically, use of activity schedules has been associated with a decrease in disruptive behavior, aggression, tantrums, and property destruction (1).
  • In older students, use of activity schedules can enhance learning and improve a child’s ability to perform the skills required for daily living (1,3,4,6,8).
  • With time, some students are able to independently use activity schedules to achieve on-task behavior and self-management without supervision (3-6).

Why use Activity Schedules?

  • The purpose of some activity schedules used at the school is to assist the student in gaining more independence in their day (helps the staff work with multiple students at a time).
  • Additionally, activity schedules can be a part of a person’s behavior plan to signal when reinforcers are available or when they will be delivered

– The schedule will be filled with reinforcement such as: hugs, tickles, breaks, sensory activities, access to tangible items/activities, access to one on one attention from staff, etc.
They can be used in almost any environment. They can be used in speech therapy, in school, and in the home.
They can be used to show any steps for almost any skill.

Are they expensive?

  • Most Activity Schedules do not involve any type of electronic or battery operated devices, they are typically cost-effective and do not require the use of an equipment.

        Example: dry erase boards, clipboards, 3-ring binders, manila file folders, photo albums, laminated PECS     icons, photographs, etc.

How do you use one?

  • Identify how your schedule will be displayed

          – Options include (1) written schedules, (2) velcro strips with pictures, (3) binder with pictures, etc.

  • Create pictures needed for picture type schedules
  1. Have the person check the first item on the schedule.
  2. Next, have the person complete the activity.
  3. Then, the person will indicate that that activity is complete.
  • It is important for the person to indicate that s/he is “all done” with a scheduled activity (9).

       – For example he can cross out/check off the scheduled item, or place the scheduled activity object/photo /Picture Communication Symbol (PCS) in an “all done” envelope.
    4. The person will then check the next item on the schedule.

    5. Repeat all steps until the schedule is complete.


1. Bopp, K.D., et al. 2004. “Speech-Language Pathologists’ Roles in the Delivery of Positive Behavior Support for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities.” Am.J Speech Lang Pathol. 13(1):5-19.

2. Wheeler, J.J., and S.L. Carter. 1998. “Using Visual Cues in the Classroom for Learners with Autism as a Method for Promoting Positive Behavior.” B.C.Journal of Special Education 21(3):64-73.

3. Kimball, J.W., et al. 2003. “Lights, Camera, Action! Using Engaging Computer-Cued Activity Schedules.” TEACHING Exceptional Children. 36(1):40-45.

4. Bryan, L.C., and D.L. Gast. 2000. “Teaching On-Task and On-Schedule Behaviors to High-Functioning Children with Autism via Picture Activity Schedules.” J Autism Dev.Disord. 30(6):553-567.

5. Morrison, R.S., et al. 2002. “Increasing Play Skills of Children with Autism Using Activity Schedules and Correspondence Training.” Journal of Early Intervention 25(1):58-72.

6. Zimbelman, M., et al. 2006. “Addressing Physical Inactivity Among Developmentally Disabled Students Through Visual Schedules and Social Stories.” Res.Dev.Disabil.

7. Stromer, R., et al. 2006. “Activity Schedules, Computer Technology, and Teaching Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. 21(1):14-24.

8. Massey, N.G., and J.J. Wheeler. 2000. “Acquisition and Generalization of Activity Schedules and Their Effects on Task Engagement in a Young Child with Autism in an Inclusive Pre-School Classroom.” Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities 35(3):326-35.

9. Susan Stokes under a contract with CESA 7 and funded by a discretionary grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.


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Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

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