Using Family Schedules on the Weekend

Brenda Dater, MPH, MSW

About the Author

Brenda Dater, MSW, MPH, is the executive director at AANE and the author of Parenting Without Panic. Brenda is a mom of three, and her eldest is an Autistic transgender woman. Brenda has facilitated parent support groups for over 20 years and thoroughly enjoys creating an environment where parents can find the support, information, and the community they need.

Ever have the experience of waking up Saturday morning with a plan for how the day should proceed?  Guess what, your Autistic child does, too! Often the parent and child perspectives differ concerning what should happen during the weekend. One strategy that can help address these differing expectations and clarify what will happen is to use a written or visual schedule.

Written schedules or visual schedules with pictures are often used at school and home during the week in the form of calendars to help everyone see what’s coming next—this leads to fewer unexpected moments. Being able to predict and understand how long activities will last and why they need to occur helps Autistic children understand what the day will look like. They can also provide a range of activities so weekends will feel balanced.

The following steps can help as you develop a weekend schedule with your child:

  • Let your child know you need some help with an activity and that this should take about 10 minutes or less. If your child responds well to timers, use one to help them understand what 10 minutes (or less) feels like.
  • Ask your child what things they particularly want to do that day. If they need prompts, you can ask more specifically what they want free time for (reading, video/computer games, playing a specific board game, etc.) Asking them for their preference first helps them to see that their interests and needs will be addressed. It’s very helpful if your child can have at least one activity they really want to do on the schedule.
  • Let your child know what you have to do today (errands, cooking, cleaning, exercise, etc.) This helps them to see more than their own perspective.
  • Now discuss the things your child may need to do, like chores or other tasks. Do toys need to be tidied? Is there a school project that needs to be worked on a little each day so it won’t be overwhelming? If these are less preferred activities, work together to spread these tasks out in the schedule. It will be much easier for your child to clean up a bedroom if they know playing their favorite game is next on the list.
  • Talk about how much time will be needed for different activities. This helps your child to see the bigger picture of how time will be allocated. For example, the schedule can help them to see that practicing piano takes 30 minutes out of the whole day and they still have 2 hours for a preferred activity. Often a child will spend time complaining about having to do a non-preferred activity because they can’t predict how much time it will take. Making the time commitment explicit helps them to start to learn that all activities have an end point (both non-preferred and preferred) and helps with transitioning to the next activity.
  • Look at the schedule together and talk about the balance of activities. If you have several items in a row that require sitting in one place, think about rearranging things or adding in an activity that will help your child move around. Make adjustments you both think will work.
  • Let your child know that the schedule can change and that you’ll let them know if that’s going to happen.
  • Give your child positive recognition for helping you to plan your day.
  • Post and refer to the schedule—give your child lots of kudos for using it too.

Here’s a sample to help you get started!

Tip: You can make the size of the box reflect the amount of time spent in an activity. For example, make bigger boxes for activities that take more time and smaller boxes for activities that take less time. You can use fewer boxes too. Want help organizing your home life? Call AANE or learn more about and sign up for parent coaching.

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