Activity schedules are frequently used with children and adults who have autism. These easy-to-make tools consist of photographs or drawings and tell the user what comes next in a sequence of steps or events. They build on the visual strengths associated with autism and can be used to increase independence and manage transitions.
Researchers Jenna Lequia, M.S. and Wendy Machalicek, Ph.D., BCBA-D at University of Wisconsin-Madison and Mandy J. Rispoli, Ph. D., BCBA-D at Texas A & M University looked at 16 studies involving the use of activity schedules with individuals with autism to determine effectiveness, how they are frequently used, and which populations respond best to this intervention.
They found that activity schedules are most frequently used to assist with self-regulation, independence, transition, and play while decreasing undesirable behaviors. Each of the 16 studies showed improvements in targeted behavior and decreases in undesirable behaviors. Most important, activity schedules had these effects with children and adults on all ranges of the autism spectrum, including individuals with severe communication and adaptive skill deficits.
The researchers do point out that the decrease in undesirable behaviors may be due to factors other than just using activity schedules. Activity schedules are often put in place as part of a larger behavior management plan. They also increase reinforcement from the adults implementing the programs. The use of reinforcement may be the true cause of a decrease in undesirable behaviors.
Activity schedules are an inexpensive and easy-to-use intervention at home and at school, in the community, and in the work place. You can easily create your own using pictures found online or by taking pictures. This resource from the Haring Center at the University of Washington explains how to create an activity schedule: www.haringcenter.washington.edu/sites/default/files/file/ActivityScheduleTipSheet.pdf.
Lequia, J., Machalicek, W., & Rispoli, M.J. (2012). Effects of activity schedules on challenging behavior exhibited in children with autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6 (1), 480-492.