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Visual Schedules: Tips and Tricks for Supporting a Child with ADHD

Visual Schedules: Tips and Tricks for Supporting a Child with ADHD

Cierra Chmiliar | November 10, 2020

What are visual schedules?

Visual schedules better communicate a task or activity by using a sequence of images, symbols, and photos. They may be in the form of a laminated piece of paper, a board, a planner, or even an app on a smartphone or iPad. Visual schedules can be extremely helpful for children with a variety of difficulties, including (but not limited to) ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and anxiety.

Visual schedules promote:

*Independence & Problem Solving: Children with ADHD may have difficulty keeping their attention span for more than a few minutes, they may have trouble listening to instructions and following through with multi-step tasks, or they may be constantly losing all their materials. Visual schedules promote organization, provide a novel way to grab their attention, and provide meaning and comprehension so they can learn to complete tasks more independently.

*Inclusion: Visual schedules increase comprehension and understanding for all children, but especially those with difficulties.

*Fewer Power Struggles:  Visual schedules often takes out the personal piece of an adult’s demands.  

*Reduced anxiety: ADHD and anxiety symptoms often go hand in hand; when a child has to work 5 times harder as everyone else and only gets half the amount of work done, it can cause anxious symptoms. Visual schedules can help them to be more successful in completing tasks.

Frankly, all children can benefit from visual schedules; visual schedules create routine and predictability to help children understand their environment, and help them understand the rules and expectations for different settings, whether it be in the school, in the home, or out in the community.

Tips and tricks for implementing visual schedules:

  1. Use for Anything and Everything: Visual schedules can be used for nearly any task. This includes the wake-up routine, locker routine, daily or weekly schedule, school centre transitions, specific tasks, bedtime routine, and bathroom routine. Google or Pinterest can provide a wealth of examples and templates to use for most routines.

  2. Appropriate Formatting: Gear the schedule towards the child’s individual needs and developmental level; consider the comprehension level, attention span, sequencing abilities and other skills the child demonstrates. It is also important to consider what form of information is the most meaningful to the child- objects, photos, drawing, words, or phrases.

  3. Start Small and Simplify: The visual schedule should be geared towards the child’s attentional span. If a child is having difficulty with a task or a transition, the visual schedule needs to begin quite small and simple. Begin with 2-3 steps, with the caregiver helping complete the tasks so the child can be successful. Once successful on their own, the visual schedule can be elaborated, or more tasks added. The goal would be for the child to use the schedule independently.

  4. Make it novel: Use colour and images. Schedules do not need to include any words (use of words will depend on the child’s reading ability). You can make use of generic images (clipart), cartoons, illustrations, or even a picture of the child doing the activity. For developmentally young children, it can be also be helpful to have each action on a double sided velcro tab so it can be ripped off or turned over to show when each step is completed along the way.

  5. Display the visual schedule in a prominent place: For example, a daily schedule might go in the child’s room or in the kitchen/common space; a school routine might be on the whiteboard in the front of the room. Specific routines should go in the place where the activity takes place- post the “washing hands” routine above the sink, the “getting ready” routine in the closet, and the specific “centre” activities at each centre.

  6. Make it Motivating: Be sure to praise effort, not success. For example, instead of saying “good job”, say “you tried really hard”. Novelty (velcro tabs, colour) can also make it motivating.

  7. Instill Predictability and Consistency: For visual schedules to work, the adults need to apply them consistently, every time the routine takes place, across all different settings (usually both the home and the school). Visual schedules must be used everyday for them to work effectively.

  8. Don’t Give Up: It’s okay if the visual schedules don’t work right away- keep at it, keep helping finish the task so it can be successful, and progress will come in time.

  9. Teach to All Children: Teach the other children in the home and in the classroom to understand and use the schedule- you may be surprised at how much other children like them!


Cierra Chmiliar, M.C., Registered Psychologist
Speaker for the 2020 November Online Children’s Mental Health Conference


Join us for our upcoming annual Children’s Mental Health Conference via online format airing November 20-22, 2020!
https://instituteofchildpsychologyconference.com/