Integrating Apps in Play Therapy
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Visual Schedules: Relational and Playful

Visual schedules and task/activity completion visuals have existed for a long time. These types of interventions or supports have been used for children, both neurotypical and Neurodivergent, to provide help and success with several constructs. They can be created in many ways – pictures, words, dry erase boards, computer programs, etc. I have personally enjoyed the use of visuals and still create them for my own benefit as an adult.

Some of the ways that visuals provide help for children include creating structure and routine for the day or activity, functioning as a strengths based learning and memory recall process for visual learners, providing independence, creating mastery and competence (positive self-worth), providing confidence and self-advocacy, providing a concentrate opportunity to introduce and process change, reducing anxiety and dysregulation, promoting regulation and helping with smooth transitions, creating a useful tool for executive functioning needs, and creating a sense of control and predictably for the child.

It sounds like visuals can be great (and they can) but there is a caution – historically (and sometimes currently) visuals seem to be implemented from a homework assignment, rule creating, or even punishment attitude – yuck! This type of introduction of a visual can be off putting (rightfully so) for many children and denies the true potential of this type of intervention to be helpful. 

Visuals should be presented from a relational perspective and ideally in the form of play. Creating visuals can be especially powerful for children who enjoy art and creative play and participating in relational activity with their caregivers. A few strategies are provided below for successful and multifaceted visual creation with children.

  1. Involve the Child – Visual schedules and/or any visual task completion guide should be created with the child. The child should be involved and have a voice in how the visual is created and what information will be included in the visual. The child should have a sense of ownership toward the visual. The adult will present the concept but should be mindful to allow the child to lead in the creation.

  2. Create a Relational Play Time Between Child and Caregiver – In AutPlay® Therapy we have an intervention called Schedule Party. Basically, the parent and child get together once a week to create the next weeks visual schedule. They do this in a party/celebration atmosphere complete with balloons, hats, celebration toys, whatever the child likes (It could even include a cupcake). As the parent and child complete each day, they celebrate (hit the balloons, blow the noise makers, eat some cupcake, etc.). Once they finish the schedule, they can play a fun game together. This becomes a positive relational activity for the parent and child and endears the child to the visual schedule – something fun with positive memories with the parent. It does not have to be a Schedule Party but something of this design where the child and parent can enjoy each other, and experience play in the process of creating the visual.

  3. Utilize the Child’s Play Preferences and Interests – When thinking about creating a visual, it is important to work from the child’s play preferences and interests. Does the child like art, movement, nature, video games? If the child likes Minecraft, then incorporate that into the visual. If the child likes animals, then include an animal theme. Consideration should be given to what the child likes. If possible, the child should have a say in the type, design, and theme that will be used to create the visual.

  4. Be Creative – Dry erase boards and stickers are fine but don’t be afraid to experiment and create your own unique type of visual. Consider using nature, some of the child’s own toys, a video game format, anything that might be endearing and interesting to the child. Also, consider mixing it up from week to week, it does not have to be the same type of design forever.

  5. Empower the Child – As discussed, visuals can offer many benefits for children. The concept of visuals, and more importantly understanding how to create them, provides the child with a support tool they can utilize throughout their lifetime. Having the ability to understand how a visual can help and how to create an individualized support to meet specific needs promotes sustainable empowerment.

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