A Visual Schedule for Use in Natural Disaster

Many children with special needs use a visual schedule to organize their day. A visual schedule shows which activities and the order in which the activities will happen. A visual schedule can map out a big chunk of time such as an entire morning, afternoon or even a whole day. A first/then visual schedule shows what will happen just now (first) and what will happen next (then). (Endow, 2011)

If your child uses a visual schedule it is important that you continue using a visual schedule through the aftermath of a natural disaster. This can be difficult when you do not have access to your child’s usual visuals or, in many cases, may not even be able to live in your own home for several days. Here are some quick tips to create a visual schedule to support your child even if you yourself have no idea what might happen as the day unfolds:

For a Child Who is a Reader:  Use any paper and write the daily activities you know will happen even if you do not know exactly when or how they will happen.

Example: For sure your child will wake up, eat meals, use the bathroom, get dressed, etc. Use these ordinary activities to anchor a schedule.

Then, in between these items you can insert the phrase “mom will figure out what goes here ____________.”

Adaptation For a Child Who is Not a Reader:  Draw a happy face, label it MOM (or the name of the adult in charge) and explain what it means. If your child cannot comprehend an explanation you can teach it to him by using a routine. When it is time for MOM on the picture schedule you can draw your child’s attention to it and say, “MOM’s time.”  Do this the same way using the same words at each schedule transition time so your child comes to know what this visual means.

Then, when it is “MOM time” you can insert what ever needs to go on the space regardless of what it might be. I have used this sort of schedule successfully with many children when I myself have no idea what the day will hold.

Anti Anxiety Tip For the Child Who Needs His World Sorted Out:  Make a point to let your child know you will always show/tell him ahead of time whenever something new or different will be happening.  This isn’t always easy. You may be asked to move locations or share space in an emergency shelter in the spur of the moment.

When I stayed at a shelter and these sorts of things happened I took my children to “the office.” In reality it was the bathroom – the only truly private place available.  I would then give them the scoop on the change or the next thing coming. I then fixed the schedule to incorporate the information. Then, we would all take five slow deep breaths, putting our fingers up to count each breathe and on five we would calmly exit the bathroom. It seemed to work better some days than on other days. Having this routine was helpful to us all, decreased overall anxiety and left us all with a sense of belonging and family camaraderie.

Conclusion:  If visual schedules have been part of your child’s life before the natural disaster, these are some ideas to start your thinking in useful ways you might easily support your child when you yourself may not know much ahead of time what will happen when.



Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean on October 13, 2016.
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