Did you know that visual session schedules can benefit almost ANY young student (neurotypical or neurodiverse). I use visual session schedules with almost all of my students in speech therapy (please note: a session schedule has images that represent the activities on your lesson plan for the day in therapy, this is different from the students' visual schedules they would use in the classroom). Please note: it is important to support your nuerodiverse student's needs, please consider this when using any visual support system (some therapists are too rigid and withhold desired objects to try to get a child to perform, this does not support their learning in my opinion). These schedules should be be compliance based, rather showing the students what the plan is.
Here's my top 3 reasons....
Stops the begging! When you use a session schedule, it visually lets your students know the expectations for the session. I use to have students constantly begging for their favorite therapy activity ("Mrs. S, can we play a game", "Mrs. S can we do a craft", "Mrs. S can we work on the iPad"....). Using a session schedule reduces this because the students know exactly what they are doing that day when they walk in. It can take some time getting used to it, but after one or two weeks my students (even pre-kers) come into therapy ready to complete their schedule!
Reduces transition anxiety. I have some students who struggle with anxiety and the "fear of the unknown." For these students, I use the schedule to give them a sense of what to expect the minute they walk in my room. It also helps them to "see the light at the end of the tunnel" because they know when the schedule is complete, they get to go back to class. I also have a "lightning bolt" system that we use in case there is something unexpected (read more about that below) that interrupts the schedule.
Helps with behavior: I am not saying session schedules will solve behavior problems, but in my experience, they can really help! Having a visual schedule is a good way to initiate boundaries in your room. Consistency is the key with any behavior issues. Structure in your session may significantly help with behavioral issues with some students.
***Please note: When working with students, it is important to follow their lead, don't be rigid with the use of visual schedules, use them more as a guide.
There are many other benefits of using a session schedule in therapy such as building vocabulary, following directions, learning organization skills, learning time concepts, sequencing skills, recognizing text, and so much more (remember my post was only about three reasons, ha ha).
Here are the schedules I use in my therapy room. I keep the extra symbols in a zip bag.
If you like the schedules above, today is your lucky day! I wanted to share this simple, yet effective tool with all of my readers. I included several different formats for your convenience. Choose the one that works best for your lesson plans. It is easy to switch out the symbols for each group or session. These schedules will work with school based OTs, PTs, and counselors too.
I tried to include all the symbols a therapist might need, but there are so many activities out there that are adaptable for speech and language therapy (there was no way I could anticipate them all). I included broad symbols (table work, carpet time, clean up time etc...) and specific activity symbols (book, play-dough, game, worksheet, coloring, etc...).
You will most likely need additional images for specific activities or interests. I use Smarty Symbols for all of my visuals. They have personal use plans (for your classroom) and commercial use plans (if you want to create items to sell. www.smartysymbols.com
I hope you find it useful!
I also have a full pack of visuals for any school-based therapist (SLP/OT/PT/Counselors) that contain the free schedule above but with more schedule formats and images. It also comes with first/next/last boards, first/next/then/last boards, token boards, and helpful visuals.
Other Visual Systems I use...
Lightning Bolt System: I am on the Autism Team in my district and I set up visual schedules for students who need them. I adapt general education and special education rooms visually for these students. For most students, they have visual schedules for their day hanging in their room or in a folder (general stuff like library time, math, lunch, recess etc...). Sometimes though, unexpected thing happen (assemblies, fire drills, book fairs, subs, etc...) and I want my students to adapt and be prepared. This is where the lightning bolt symbol comes in! I teach my students that when lightning strikes, it can be scary and unexpected but eventually everything goes back to normal (sometimes we even watch videos of lightning storms). I explain that sometimes unexpected things happen in our schedule like this too ( it is okay and eventually things will go back to normal). When something like this happens, I have the teacher place a lightning bolt symbol on the student's schedule . If available, I also have them show the student a symbol for what is happening (assembly, fire drill, book fair etc...) This has helped reduce anxiety for many of my students during these unexpected events.
First/Then Schedules: UPDATE! I NO LONGER USE FIRST/THEN BOARDS FOR COMPLIANCE WITH AN ACTIVITY. This should not be used with withhold a desired activity (this does not support neurodiverse learners). You can use these for a mini activity schedule to reduce transition anxiety between activities. Be flexible, if the student wants the other object first, follow their lead and just switch them!
UPDATE: I no longer use token boards in my therapy sessions. I believe that compliance based systems are not supporitve of neurodiverse students. I tried to build my lessons and plans off of their interests.
Thanks for reading! I would love to hear what kind of visual systems you use in therapy (other than the visual schedules in the classroom). Thanks for reading!