Pros: Easy to learn and use; better visual design than competitors.
Cons: Not many students have an Apple Watch; some may tire of the repetitiveness or restrictiveness.
Bottom Line: This is a usefully customizable spin on visual timers, but the cool wearable version is accessible to very few students.
Children with Autism: A Visual Schedule can be a digital replacement for paper-based schedules for students who need support with organization and executive function skills. Rather than printing off social stories or multiple daily visual schedules on paper, teachers could use students' iPads or, if students have access, iPhones or Apple Watches. Teachers can create multiple schedules for different days, planning and setting up a whole week's activities ahead of time. Begin by conferencing with individual students, and parents, to get buy-in. To help orient students, take pictures of students' teachers and classrooms along with key visual cues or landmarks for recess, lunch, etc., to help reinforce parts of the schedule. Consider pairing this picture taking with a video-modeling field trip for students, to help them acclimate to their new schedule. Make sure to remind students to tap their device during lessons when they complete activities. Prompt them to check the countdown timer to prepare for transitions. Consider training paraprofessionals or teacher aides in how to use the app and how to prompt students to use the visual timer.
Editor's Note: Children with Autism: A Visual Schedule is no longer available.
Children with Autism: A Visual Schedule is an iOS app for creating picture-based, personalized daily schedules. To begin creating a task, and to help students identify the type of task, choose from one of the 14 pre-made icons and colors, or add your own pictures (e.g., of a classroom or teacher). Provide a brief description of the task to go with the picture. Once you've got your tasks created, you can drag and drop them into a schedule for each day. You can add several "subtasks" to each task/activity, which students can tap to complete when they finish. There's also a time limit option that adds a countdown timer during the task. A vibration alert feature helps remind students of upcoming transitions from one activity to the next. Tap the "now" button in the lower corner to see what task is currently happening. If you want to see the entire week's schedule, tap the calendar icon in the upper left to see a color-coded picture of your upcoming activities.
Visual schedules are a trusted technique for helping students, especially those with executive function challenges, keep track of scheduled activities independently. Children with Autism: A Visual Schedule's simple and clean design helps facilitate learning without overwhelming visual stimulation. For teachers familiar with the popular Time Timer app, this is a step up in complexity and also potential independence for students. There are thoughtful features like the task-specific countdown timer, custom task images, and vibration alerts that offer students clear cues. In combination, all of these features mean students can better recognize what activity (and subactivities) they're meant to focus on, how long it'll take, how long they'll need to wait before a transition, and what's next and when. Completing tasks provides a nice sense of accomplishment and progress.
This is likely a student-by-student solution, though; it'll be just what a specific student needs and then too distracting for others. It'll require some time to set up properly (taking useful pictures of key locations, etc.), and to teach students and staff to use it properly. Moreover, it lacks a teacher/parent dashboard with completion updates. That'd help keep caregivers in the loop and lead to more effective use of the tool all around. Most importantly, while the Apple Watch version is the best version, it's only accessible to the very few students with access to an Apple Watch. The rest will need to rely on an iPad or iPhone, which isn't quite as convenient and might lead to greater distraction.