Picture Activity Schedules Aren’t Just for Kids With Autism

When I was only 25 years old, I was a young, divorced mother of three beautiful girls, attempting to manage my own home, career, and life. My kids were my life (and they still are), but at the time, it was straight HELL trying to manage all the multiple issues of life, work, and parenting that come with having a young family.  For the most part, I didn’t do too horribly (a quick survey of my children will either corroborate or contest that), and at that time, I had some “tricks and tips” that I came up with to help manage my busy life and busy schedule.

My girls and I in 1999

This past year, in my college classes, I participated in an Honors Thesis program for the Psychology department. During two full semesters, I was paired with a wonderful mentor, Jenny Ward, who was working on a project regarding children with autism and picture activity schedules.

Jenny and I

What the heck are picture activity schedules and what the heck does that have to do with your kids, Lisa?

Well, it’s funny you should ask. Picture activity schedules are graphic representations of different steps in an activity that help a child with autism perform that activity with little to no prompting. The great thing about picture activity schedules is that you do not need to have autism to use them, and, unbeknownst to me, when I was a young 25 year old mother of three, I created and used a version of picture activity schedules with my own children, without realizing that is what they were.

Here’s how it went down: I began using them around 1999. I had a 7 year old, a 5 year old, and a 4 year old. I worked a (more than) full time job, which typically had me working from home, even after I had finished my day at the office. Every week day morning, I would get up at approximately 4:30 am to get my children’s clothes ready for the day and get myself ready. By 6:45 am, everyone had to dressed, washed, teeth brushed, hair combed, and waiting by the door with bags and lunches, to get where we needed to be on time. Wow! I’m sure you are exclaiming. That’s really early! Yes, yes, it was. Thankfully, I was a very energetic 25 year old and could get up that early without too many aches and pains. However, it did not seem very logical to me to get up so early, only to turn around and go to bed by midnight, sleep four and a half hours, wake and do it all again. Besides, it was extremely tedious and eventually grew very exhausting. So, what did I do? I created picture activity schedules for my children.

Here is a sample of what one looked like:

Tooth brushing Picture Activity Schedule

I had something similar to this posted in the bathroom. There was another one for getting dressed in their bedrooms, along with one for making the bed.

These little posters were such time savers for me and my girls. If they had any question as to what they needed to do, I directed them to the posters littered throughout the house.

Now, these are different from the picture activity schedules used with children with autism today. As many of these children, especially the more severe cases, have trouble reading, writing, and even speaking, the picture activity schedules they use are typically only pictures, with little to no words written on them. Such as this sample here:

Picture Activity Schedule for a boy with autism – tooth brushing


But, my point is that it works in much the same fashion.

For me, these things were a lifesaver. Rather than have to explain to my children every 5 minutes what I needed them to do, I would say “what does the tooth brushing picture say?”. Even the two younger ones were able to, if not read what was written, then at least reference the picture and deduce that it was time to brush their teeth.

I must have been doing something right, when it came to those rough mornings, because my kids are all still alive and kicking, and one of them even made me a grandmother!

My girls and I in 2012


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