Schedules for Autistic Kids?

I’m going to push back my recap of our Moab Trip because we had an experience this week that I though would give you a good example of a weekly tip we implemented and how it’s working for us.  However, here’s a picture from the trip!  We got some great ones!  Such a beautiful and scenic area.

Such a beautiful part of the country

I remember the first time our boys played Mario Kart Wii . . . . . . they were tied for last place both going backwards on the course.  I remember thinking, “I wonder if this is too much for them?”  Well, I”ll be honest ~ Twin A consistently beats me now and as long as Twin B doesn’t have one bad round, he’ll beat me as well!  Proud to see how well they’ve gotten at it.

However, we’ve run into problems managing expectations of when we play Mario Kart.  The boys have come off the school bus and the first thing they do is throw their bags down and start heading downstairs.  I don’t mind them playing while we make dinner so say, 30-45 minutes a day after school.   However, if they start as soon as they get home, there’s almost TWO HOURS until dinner.  Not good!

I was at a parent training and this one tip hit me like a ton of bricks.  The trainer mentioned that  with most issues, we can’t simply say, “well, our kid needs to change his expectations” because more than likely, THERE IS SOMETHING IN OUR OWN ACTIONS THAT HAVE SET THOSE EXPECTATIONS!  Now, we aren’t perfect and we go can be inconsistent with our actions but with autistic kids, they crave that consistency and when we deviate from what we’ve done previously, that can cause problems.

I realized that I’ve done things that have set the expectation that it’s ok to come home and go straight to the Wii.  I  then realized that because I’ve done that, I can’t simply say, “well let’s change it.”  It’ll take more than that . . . . especially since this is a ‘big’ part of their lives right now.  So, we decided to try a visual picture schedule to help set proper expectations.

Boys Afterschool Chart

I think most specialists will say that the schedule shouldn’t be longer than 3-4 sequences but we thought we’d try this.  Now, the boys will get off the bus and go step by step through the schedule.   The bottom pictures are examples of ‘activities’ the boys can do for their activity time.

It’s a pretty simple schedule but it has worked well over the last week.  In fact, even when we came home from church or on a day with no school, the boys were talking about what they needed to do to play Mario Kart and they were laughing because “we had no lunchbox today!  What?!?!?!?!?!?”  It was pretty funny.

I’ll talk more about the systematic approach our social workers use in working with tantrums in school but a quick thought that has stuck with me is that they always start at the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid.  Are the kids getting their basic needs met?  Basically – are they hungry and do they feel secure?

Last year, I’d always take a snack to the bus stop so the boys had something to eat.  This year, the bus brings them straight home so they probably get off the bus famished.  I started setting out a decent treat for them.  Instead of say a small bag of goldfish or fruit, I set out a pretty good bowl of something . . . usually a combo of fruit, a protein (cheese or nuts), and a ‘snack’ food.  The snack is an important part of our schedule and I think that has also helped to alleviate the frustration they have.  The activity is usually something they can do for 15 minutes.  We’ve been picking up pennies from the floor, playing the Angry Bird game, painting, etc.  It’s worked and we’ve been successful at pushing back Mario Time for up to an hour!

I’ll let you know how this week goes but so far, the chart has been a lifesaver!


  1. Colleen Wunder said:

    that chart is a great idea-I wish more parents would be consistent and thoughtful to teaching their children principles. Too often because it takes more thought and action, we put things aside where valuable teaching opportunities can be found through some effort on the part of parents

  2. Sylvia said:

    Sounds like the chart is working out in a great way! I love the idea of using schedules, but I have never been able to get Bethany to cooperate with a schoolwork chart. She used to take off the cards and hide them! LOL! But we have recently started a simpler version in an attempt to establish more structure into her day.. We have problems with watching too much Barney!

    • Smart girl ~ I’d hide my cards if they were school oriented as well! 🙂

  3. I picked up a great magnetized chart from a thrift store about a year back. I tried it with my son a few months later but he was still too young for it. He has now matured considerably and is in preschool a couple of days a week, which he loves. He really thrives on routine and that is an area that I struggle with, being more a right brained type myself. We are having issues now with him wanting to spend way too much time on the iPad. This post reminded me about the activity chart we have stored away. I think he might be old enough for it now and he also might really enjoy the added structure it would give our home time. It will also be a good way to ensure more activities away from the iPad!

    • Hah hah – we moved from the iPad to the Wii. I kind of like it because it makes them play together and though it causes issues when one loses or picks a course that the other doesn’t like, it is still interaction between them and whoever else plays with them. On the iPad, I got frustrated that they kept trying to watch youtube videos and would spend an hour watching mario kart on the iPad! AAAAUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!!!

      Hope the activity chart works! Excited to hear the results. 🙂

  4. your boys sure are smart to get a laugh out of where the chart didn’t match up with the reality that there IS NO lunchbox on Sundays!! the fact they’re laughing is a good sign that their deepest needs ARE being met! YOU get a gold star for that! Only three more gold stars and you can have five Skittles!!!
    Kahuna-pule Kimo

  5. This is a great tip! (& I so get that obsession with anything electronic) It has us hiding the DS, unplugging the computer, disconnecting the Xbox in order to stall out that “need” he feels to play..
    Part of me wonders if its what he needs to decompress from the day? A sort of shut off valve to calm his head after so much work at school…but the consistency thing DOES become an issue, one which he is craving as soon as he comes home. Will try the schedule to deter a bit.
    Oh! And we don’t have a Wii but he played it when we were in the Dominican in February…we have honestly heard Super Mario Kart Wii and the desire to have one (about 40x a day) every day since then…
    We’re holding out for the new one coming out in November…I will make it!! (I hope)

    • Thanks! I agree with the decompress ~ maybe the Wii is their little way to escape and just have fun for a bit. The boys LOVE the Wii. They have little steering wheels that they put the controller in for Mario so to them, it’s just like driving a car.

      May be worth the investment! Hope you can last until November! 🙂

      We waited for a month or so before we got Mario Kart (it was their bday present) and I don’t think we could’ve gone much longer. 🙂

  6. Cyn said:

    I really like your “after school chart” idea. I think you have inspired me to try and do this so my son has a general list to manage as you say the expectations. I have to watch that he just wants to go and play toys and skip the potty run lol or want the iPad:) I haven’t heard of Maslow’s Pyramid but now I’m going to look it up. Looking forward to you Moab trip re-cap. Your sneak peak pics looks incredible!

    • Thanks! I think it’s Abraham Maslow. I’ll post more on it as we get further info on how they use it but I thought it interesting that they start at the foundation and work their way up.

    • For real. It’s really helped with some of our challenges

  7. Love the way you did this! I always think I just don’t have the time or focus to do something like this, but when I finally get it done, it makes life sooooo much easier-it’s totally worth it. Ok. I’m inspired.


  8. We use a visual schedule, where each activity is on Velcro that my daughter can remove when she’s finished that thing – she likes it, but sometimes she hides the little cards! Lol. Im thinking you’ve got the right idea there- the snack right after school. My girl is always grumpy, and this might help. Thanks 🙂 love your blog.

    • I like the schedule idea. Our boys school as a similar one. It’s funny though being on break, especially being on a two day getaway, the question I always get asked is, “what’s next?” The schedules are so helpful! Thnks for visiting

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