Memory and Schedule Aids:
Picture schedules, chore charts, task lists, other visual, and transition reminders (for children).
Many of us use several types of reminders in our daily lives. They help us accomplish more in the midst of our often busy schedules and sometimes frequent memory lapses. (I use timers in cooking and baking, outlook task reminders and calendar, and for years, I have used post-it notes and “to do” lists.) In-spite of this, many assume that it’s enough to simply tell a child to do something in the future or daily or weekly, and they should remember. This is true for all children; but especially true for children with disabilities. Children’s lives are busy (hopefully) with play and learning. For children, and sometimes even for adults, play is a foundation for learning many life essentials and when fully engaged in play (which can be a very healthy thing) it is easy to lose track of time and forget important tasks.
Over the years, my wife and I have used many types of reminders for our children. For some children it is helpful to periodically change the type of schedule being used both for variety and increased efficacy and for other children it is helpful to find something that works well and change it only gradually over time when absolutely necessary.
The following are some types of memory and/or schedule aids.
Task (to do) Lists:
Tasks or “to do” lists come in many forms. They can be set up as random tasks that just need to be completed or sequential things to be done. They can be written lists that are check marked or crossed out when finished or notes such as post-it notes that can be thrown away when completed. (I personally like the feeling of tossing something when a task is completed.) They can be written out on a paper, white-board, electronic calendar, or set up as individual or recurring tasks which pop up on a computer. Many if not most adults use something similar, yet it doesn’t occur to many parents that such things may be helpful for children. These types of cues (task and “to do” lists and notes) may be more helpful for older children and children with disabilities who are higher functioning. More and more children with communication difficulties, to include autism, are using IPADs or other similar devices. Electronic reminders similar to what many adults use can be very helpful for some children.
Picture schedules can be very helpful with transitions. They can help to reduce anxiety and stabilize expectations. One of the most useful techniques is to use a picture schedule with pictures which can be removed once that task or activity has been completed. When at all possible, allow the child to remove the picture him or herself. This often helps the transition to go more smoothly. Often the best picture schedules are ones you make yourself for you and your child. The following applies for a schedule aids for children or adults who have a difficult time with change. If a change is going to occur during the day (or week), place a card in advance to that time to alert them of the pending change. Do this with minor changes and practice it so that the person can better adjust when it occurs. Provide additional support and positive reinforcement through these changes. This may make it easier when a significant change occurs.
Here are some specific free examples of picture schedules.
There are as many types of chore charts as people can imagine. Here are some pictures of some:
What’s best is what works best for you and your child.
As our children were growing up, there were two types of chore charts which we most often used. One was a series of homemade paper pockets taped together on poster board. Each pocket had a rectangular picture and word for something that needed to be done both morning and night, once a day, or weekly. The rectangular picture could either be turned over when the item was completed or moved to another spot. Another type of chart used popsicle sticks, with or without magnets, which were turned over when the task was completed.
Some charts use stars or stickers to show when a task is completed and some use erasable markers.
Here are a few resources for chore charts:
There are many types of video reminders which include types of social stories and modeling. One that many people have seen was shown at the end of the movie, 50 First Dates. In the movie the young woman, due to an automobile accident, lost her memory every night as she slept. An aid which her family developed at the end of the movie was a note to watch a video every morning as she woke up. This helped her understand her past and how her life had progressed.
Similar types of video reminders (and teaching tools) have become common through youtube. These are especially useful for tasks which you may only do once or twice a year, such as preparing the perfect turkey.
These video reminders can be very helpful for some children (and adults) with disabilities. These can help a person remember how to do a particular task and how to interact with others in a particular situation. These can even include a video of the person him or herself demonstrating an appropriate interaction they have learned.
Here are some additional resources:
Remember, these can be used both for skill teaching and reminders.
Transition cues can be very helpful for both children and adults. Clocks tell us that it’s getting close to time to go to work. Alarms tell us it’s time to get up or time to remove dinner from the oven. The same tools can be very helpful for children. Picture charts with the completed activities removed help provide a cue for the transition to the next activity. A particular song or type of music can tell us it’s almost time, or time to transition to a new activity or time to pick up the toys. (The type of music should be in sync with the next activity. For example, relaxing music for transitioning to nap time or dance music for transitioning to a wiggly activity. However; the music, or other cues, should never be over stimulating for the children or individual child.) Changes in lighting can tell us it’s time to go to bed, get ready for bed, or time to leave or enter a room.
Context and Environment
There are many types of environmental and contextual cues commonly used in everything from child care settings to courts of law. Smell is commonly used as a cue to purchase, relax, or eat. (Think of the smells commonly found in bakeries, restaurants, some specialty stores, and grandma’s house.) The scent of apple/cinnamon is commonly used in homes placed on the market to sell. Many child care and preschool settings have special areas for story time, naps, crafts, and other activities. Other smaller child care centers, to include home care, may use a few decorative items, a particular throw rug, special lighting or music, and other cues to change an area from play to story time to nap time. Special clothing is often used for a cue to required behavior. (For example special clothes for painting.)
These cues help us understand what to expect and how to act.