Why use a weekly visual timetable?
Not everybody can hold multiple events, thoughts, emotions or concepts in their mind at once. There are many reasons for this including autism, ADHD, FASD, anxiety, learning disabilities and dementia.
Though the causes may be different the effects can be similar.
- When a person can’t hold all the events of the week in their mind, they can become anxious because they don’t know what’s happening and therefore, they don’t know whether there will be something that they don’t like.
- When a change in routine occurs, some people find it hard to hold in their mind what choices they have and therefore get distressed.
- Words are sometimes difficult to translate into a real event or activity. Pictures or photographs can help someone to understand more easily.
What’s the benefit of using a visual timetable?
By displaying the events and activities for a week visually, a person can group all those items together into one image, which can be remembered and recalled. The person can revisit the visual timetable to reassure themselves and cement the image in their mind.
As well as providing a single image to help memory the visual timetable also provides a visual support for communication. A person may struggle to understand the concept of an activity to be done on two or three days’ time but when that activity is displayed on a visual timetable it’s easier to see the difference between each day and the progression of days over the week.
If it’s hard to understand or remember an activity that will be happening in the future, it’s difficult to talk about it. By visualising activities, a person can see them and talk about whether they like an activity or ask about some aspect such as location or people that will be present. Additional images can be used to supplement the activity image such as photographs of people or the place that the activity will take place.
If an activity is likely to be stressful the visual timetable can be used to talk about the activity in advance and prepare a person for what it will be like.
Are all visual timetables equal?
That’s much like suggesting that all books are equal or all cars are equal. There are two basic aspects of a visual timetable that you need to think about; visual clarity and ease of use.
A visual timetable contains a lot of information so that information needs to be clearly laid out. Items of information should, ideally, be isolated from each other using borders and colours whilst similar items, such as those on the same day, should be grouped together. The timetable should be large enough to identify each activity clearly but small enough to be useable and located somewhere accessible.
For the person that will benefit from the visual timetable to get the most from it they should be the person to use it. If a timetable is “done to” a person or shown to them they are less likely to engage with it and trust it. If the person chooses the images, places them on the timetable and is encouraged to talk about each activity then the engagement is much more personal and a level of trust in the timetable develops. In order to achieve this level of engagement the timetable needs to be designed in a way that is accessible and practical to use.
In order to get maximum engagement a visual timetable can also have space for feedback or comments. And the end of an activity or at the end of a day it can be really helpful for the person using the board to make notes about what was good or what was bad. This can be a couple of sentences, a couple of keywords or just a smiley or sad face. This can form the basis of a conversation about the day, reinforcing the positives and talking about how to reduce the negatives. If today is a good day then that can be celebrated, if it was a bad day then the conversation can be around what the person could do tomorrow to make it better than today.
For people who are autistic or who have ADHD, FASD, anxiety, learning disabilities and dementia visual timetables can reduce anxiety, reduce challenging behaviours, enable conversation, increase confidence and help them to thrive not just survive.