Our next Parent Workshop will be on Monday 22nd April at 9.30am. This is the first of a four part course for parents about Autism. In session 1 we will be exploring what is Autism.
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Oaklands School

Building Foundations for Fulfilling Futures

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Oaklands School

Building Foundations for Fulfilling Futures

Visual Systems

Visual Systems -Timetables

Visual supports are a communication tool that can be used with autistic people. They are particularly useful when creating visual timetable systems in classrooms. They can be used in most situations, are adaptable and can be portable. Visual timetable systems can help to:

  • Provide structure and routine
  • Encourage independence–they can be used to help pupils follow routines for dressing, making snacks, completing learning activities, managing their day etc.
  • Build confidence
  • Improve understanding
  • Support transitions
  • Avoid frustration and anxiety–when pupils are aware of their routine and what is coming next it helps to support self and co-regulation
  • Provide opportunities to interact with others
  • Motivation –pupils can see a reward on their timetable and are motivated to complete the activities leading up to the reward
  • Behaviour management –certain preferred activities are visually scheduled at certain times of the day. This teaches pupils that they can do motivating activities, but only at certain times. It teaches them to look forward to something and can help to avoid challenging behaviour once understanding has been developed.
  • Visual timetable systems can also be in calendar or checklist form to help warn pupils of and prepare them for changes in normal routine.


A wide range of items can be used to create visual timetable systems. For example: 

  • Tactile symbols/objects of reference, e.g. Swimming trunks, packaging, food labels
  • Photographs
  • Short videos
  • Miniatures of real objects
  • Coloured pictures
  • Plain squares of coloured card
  • Line drawings
  • Symbols
  • Written words

Once past the first stage; images/symbols/written words can be physical or on a smartphone, tablet or computer. Pupils should be encouraged to engage with, assemble and change their own visual timetables, whichever form they take.


How are they displayed?

The classroom should have a main visual timetable for children to see. Individual visual timetables may look different for pupils at different stages of understanding:

  1. Now and next (2 objects of reference, photos or symbols)
  2. Now, next and then (3 objects of reference, photos or symbols)
  3. Sequence of 3 –5
  4. Separate morning and afternoon timetables
  5. Full daily timetable


Objects of Reference

Objects of Reference(OR) should be used to support understanding of timetables, structure and transitions. They should be used alongside real photographs and symbols in the first few stages of the visual timetable hierarchy. Pupils should be encouraged to take OR with them to new activities or locations to help them build associations. This is any time they begin something new on their timetable, so that they develop a deeper understanding of routines and recognition of timetable visuals. Modelling of the use of OR is essential to enable pupils to become more independent with changing and travelling with their OR. These skills will be transferred through the phases of the visual timetable hierarchy.


Now and Next Boards

Now and Next Boards are used when pupils are first introduced to visual timetables. Initially, they should have the photo/symbol on them along with the OR to build meaning association between OR and visuals. This progresses to just the photo/symbol visual when they no longer need the OR. Pupils should be encouraged to move the visual from ‘Next’ onto ‘Now’ when the first activity has finished, they should then add a new visual to ‘Next’. Modelling of reading the board should be given at all times e.g. “... has finished, next is...” (move visual) “so now it is time for...and next is...” (with pointing to the visuals). When starting the activity on ‘Now’, pupils should remove their OR or visual from the board and take it with them. Pupils can be extended to sequencing 3 visuals using a ‘Now, Next and Then’ board. Once pupils understand sequencing 3 visuals and can use the board correctly and independently, they should progress onto a visual timetable of up to 6visuals.This can show just their morning or afternoon schedule. Once pupils are using a longer visual timetable; the number of visuals they are sequencing should be incrementally increased until they are sequencing a full day. The aim is for pupils to show independent recognition of when a timetable activity has ended and for them to understand that this visual is removed from the timetable.



When transitioning to a new activity or location in the first stages of using visual timetables, pupils should be encouraged to take their OR or visual off their Now and Next Board and match it to a large copy of the same visual at the activity location. Modelling of language and understanding is essential as pupils match their OR or visual e.g. “Now it is time for...” (and pointing to the large visual).