Category Archives: Inclusive Education

Visual Schedules using the iPad

There are numerous benefits to using Visual Schedules (VS) with individuals with Autism and there is also significant research supporting their use for individuals on the Autism Spectrum (AS).  A Visual Schedule can be the key to increasing independence and managing anxiety for students with Autism. This can make a huge difference to the child and in turn diminish meltdowns, anxious behaviour and foster positive growth. 

Individuals with Autism have problems coping with unstructured time and also have difficulty understanding and then following verbal instruction, therefore a VS can provide both structure and visual cues that they can follow (Van Bourgondien et al., 2003).


Advantages to Using a Visual Schedule

The advantages to using a VS with individuals on the AS include (Mesibov et al., 2005):

  • Utilizing the individual’s visual strengths, therefore providing a receptive communication system to increase understanding;
  • Helping the individual to learn new things, accept new challenges and broaden their interests;
  • Providing tools that allow the individual to use skills in a variety of settings;
  • Increasing the individual’s flexibility and ability to orient within the world;
  • Assisting the individual to remain calm and reduce inappropriate behaviours; and
  • Developing independence and resulting self-esteem.

Creating a Visual Timetable Using the iPad

The iPad is the perfect vehicle for creating a visual timetable.  You can use any of the writing apps such as Keynote or Pages to create a visual timetable.  keynotepages

Visual timetable (Click here to be taken to an example of a Visual Schedule created on the iPad).

To create this VS I used Keynote and Keynote’s animation capabilities to add and take away from the schedule. This also means the schedule can be moveable and interactive. You can make these as simple or complicated as you like.

The great thing about Keynote is that you can design your Visual Schedule to suit your students.

You can also use Pages to create Visual Schedules and you can also make this creation interactive and dynamic, using Pages tools.

There are many other apps that you can use to create Visual Schedules.

I like Popplet or Grafio.


These are actually Mindmapping apps, but can easily be utilized for VS.  See the Popplet example below:

popplet App for Autism Spectrum

I like Grafio as well as it has a lot more elements than most Mindmapping apps.  One aspect that I really like is that each element in your Mindmap has audio capabilities, making this an extremely powerful app for students on the Spectrum. So if we look at the example below, each of my pictures can have audio attached, providing students with audio visual support. This can be really beneficial for student in Secondary School. We often forget that older students need visual supports as well.

grafio App for Autism Spectrum

Here is another alternative. Each element can have a voice over, so the child knows what you expect from them.

Grafio App for Autism Spectrum

There are many, many apps out there such as First Then Visual Schedule.First then

This app is designed specifically for making VS. While I like the ease of use, I prefer to have the versatility to create my own designs and schedules using Apps listed above.

Overall, I believe the iPad is a unique device in that you can use the technology to easily and quickly create audio, visual, interactive and dynamic Visual Schedules.


Designing your Visual Schedule

  1. What do you want your VS to do (What behaviour do you want to address?)
  2. How should your VS look? What icons will you use? (Consider what form of information would consistently be most meaningful to the student).
  3. How long is your schedule and how will it be presented? (Some of your students may be more successful with one piece of information at a time, while others may be able to cope with a short sequence of activities or up to a full day. Some students can cope with a VS displayed at the front of the classroom, some will need the VS to sit at their desk).
  4. Can your schedule be continually manipulated? (Using the iPad means that you can easily interchange your icons on a daily basis, or you can duplicate for other students).
  5. Are the icons/pictures age appropriate?
  6. Do you need audio as a prompt for the visual icon?
  7. Introduce the schedule to your students so that they know what you expect of them.
  8. Regularly update.


Davies, C. (2008). Using visual schedules: A guide for parents. The Reporter, 14(1), 18-22.

Massey, G. & Wheeler, J. (2000). Acquisition and generalization of activity schedules and their effects on task engagement in a young child with autism in an inclusive preschool classroom. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 35, 326-335.

Mesibov, G., Browder, D., & Kirkland, C. (2002). Using individualized schedules as a component of positive behavior support for students with developmental disabilities. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 25, 58-72.

Van Bourgondien, M., Reichle, N. & Schopler, E. (2003). Effects of a model treatment approach on adults with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 131-140.


by Karen Barley (GradDipEd, Posgrad DipEd, Med (SpEd) )

Karen is an Australian teacher with over 20 years’ experience in both mainstream and special education. Her interest in Autism and how to provide better educational opportunities for her students led her to iPads. Karen conducts professional development for teachers in Australia and the USA, works as an Autism Consultant and conducts a number of online courses on iPads in Education, Autism Awareness, and 21st Century Education. She can be contacted through her website:

Check out Karen’s workshops on the TTA website

Download the PDF of this article

Autism and iPads- Setting up parameters Part 1

I’m sure you’ve read all the hype about how an iPad can assist your students on the Spectrum.

There is significant research out there celebrating the use of iPads in the Autism Community. Then you have well known people, such as Temple Grandin.

suggesting in a number of interviews that iPads can play a huge role in successful learning for children who have Autism.
You may have heard about Carly Fleischmann and how technology literally opened up a world of communication for her.

and you just have to go to YouTube, Autism Communities and the many parent blogs out there to find applaud for tablet technology and the benefit for children with learning differences.

While I concur as I’ve spent the last five years researching, trialing, experimenting and designing programs using iPad and apps for all students, but especially for those on the Spectrum, I also believe that the last five years has taught us hugely about how we should implement and integrate this technology. I am extremely concerned by some of the stories I hear from teachers on how the device is being used and how the technology is being set up. We have to be clear, iPads are individual, personalised technology. They are not meant to be used as a fill in or a reward, because then you are missing the real benefit of it’s use and they shouldn’t be used for ‘iPad’ sessions, like we used to have ‘computer’ time.

Technology is now an assimilated, instilled part of everyday life. Technology is also quickly becoming as integral as pen and paper was in the past. We use technology to tell the time, read the news, write a note, send a message, research answers, do our banking, book a ticket, navigate a route and so on. As integral as technology is to daily life; we need to treat technology in the same way in education. Timetabling technology as a unique part of curriculum is a thing of the PAST!

Consequently, I came up with the following guidelines. Some are simply questions you should ask yourself and ask your school and some are some parameters that you can set with your students. I’m sure you could come up with some extra points that suit your particular clientele, but this will at least provide you with a starting point.

Also, most of these points I’ve written with the child who has Autism in mind, but you can easily relate this to the neurotypical child as well.
AutismHow will you use the iPad?

1:1 iPad use is the most appropriate or viable way to deploy iPads into the classroom for students on the Spectrum. This gives each student ownership over their iPad; all of their work is stored on the one iPad; and the iPad is readily available when students need to use it. This avoids all kinds of confusion for the student who has Autism and also means they open up a screen that is familiar and personalized for them. Not doing this would be similar to handing a child with Autism a different ‘workbook’ each day.

AutismSecurity Issues

Ensure iPads are all set up to prevent students from accessing sites, videos or apps that are not appropriate for them. The iPad has extremely good security options inbuilt into the iPad’s settings. You can set the iPad to only be able to access G rated apps, music, videos and other content. You can also prevent students from accessing the iTunes and App Store.

This is vital for students on the Spectrum because they are extremely ‘tech’ savvy and while we need security for the iPad, we also need to make available sites like YouTube that are normally restricted for students. Being able to restrict the content by setting age and ratings limits, means students can still watch age and education appropriate content. YouTube is an invaluable resource and I think shutting it off altogether cuts off access to some really great educational videos.

AutismSelecting Apps

Having a core list of apps really helps. When I first started out on this journey, I had too many apps. It was overwhelming for me to try to learn how to use them and then teach the students how to use them. I now, think it is wiser to start with a few apps….get to know how to use them and how to use them in your classroom. Then you can add apps as you go. Be clear about what you want to do with the apps and this helps you to narrow the selection further.

AutismMake sure you know how the apps work

I suggest using the apps and playing with all the settings. Go through each step of the app and know how it works. Can the app be adjusted and differentiated in the settings section? Is there a way to make the app easier, or harder? Think about how you can use these apps in an educational context for your students and how you can integrate the technology into your lessons.

Taking courses on iPad use can help you to navigate your way through the minefield of apps and get some idea of what apps to use. Go to for courses on how to use iPads in the classroom.

Go to Vimeo, Teacher Tube and other teacher educational sites for reviews on how to use apps. Additionally there are lots of videos made by educators on how to use certain apps in the classroom. This is a fantastic resource and one I highly recommend.

AutismAllocate the iPad for educational use only.

One of the very early decisions I made was to only have educationally based apps on the iPad….this did include educational games….but I left all other games off the device at the very early stage of iPad deployment into my classroom.

I believe this is a vital decision to make because I think children have plenty of opportunities to play games using various other technologies like the Nintendo DS, Wii, Xbox, Computer games etc. Keeping the iPad as an educational tool ensures that students will view the technology from this perspective.

The iPad should not be used as a ‘fill in’ or for ‘rewards’ – if the technology is being used this way, then it is not being used effectively and more importantly is not being utilized to create the best possible educational outcomes for your students.

AutismThe device cannot do the work for you or replace you as a teacher

You have to drive its use and be at the control panel. You decide what apps to use, how to use them and how you connect them to your overall curriculum and lesson plans. You will need to differentiate the use of the iPad and apps to suit your students who have Autism.

It is NOT enough to just had a child the device without some preparation and instruction, let alone determining how the device will best assist each student’s learning outcomes. The iPad is essentially an educational tool and it will only be as effective as the teacher who is overseeing its use.

AutismFinally a couple of words on setting up parameters for using device for students who are on the Spectrum

All children, and especially those who are on the Autism Spectrum need firm guidelines and parameters for using iPads both at home and the classroom. If we do this from the very start, then this will become a part of what is expected. We all know that developing routines and structures are extremely important, so it makes sense to introduce the iPad with some routine and structure.

Karen Barley

Part 2 coming in the next few days:

 Introduce the iPad as a Personal Learning Studio

Autism: Changing the Fabric of Education

Abandon girl

This year has been an interesting journey for me as an educator as I find my role to be increasingly one that is ‘teaching the teacher’. I came to this place by osmosis in a way as I sought to share more about autism awareness and how this knowledge can change the way a teacher teaches this unique student clientele.

I offer a number of courses on Autism Awareness and Using iPads in the Classroom Setting and I’ve been inspired by the passion and dedication by the many teachers who have taken these courses. Most have sought answers to the lack of knowledge they have on Autism and are desperate to make a difference to their students. Over the last two terms, I’ve felt excited and heartened that so many teachers not only want to make a difference, but want to ‘be’ that difference and have been open to make even the smallest change to help their students.

Autism is an increasing problem in education. The statistics in Australia are that 1 in 88 children are being born with Autism, which means in 15 years we are going to have 1 in 88 adults who will be on the Spectrum.  We have to as a community start thinking about the bigger picture and some significant changes need to occur as to how we approach this issue.

There is NO ‘one size fits all’ solution to the problem that is Autism. I think we need to spend less time on trying to finding a ‘cure’ and invest more energy into understanding the condition. There is a saying that “if you know one child who has Autism, you know one child who has Autism”.  So this tells us NO child is the same, therefore NO one therapy or intervention will work for every child.  However, what we do need as teachers is education, knowledge and awareness. Simply knowing how these children ‘think’ ; that they tend to be more visual, can instantly change the teaching dynamic. Knowing that many children on the Spectrum can’t look you in the eye because it is uncomfortable and even painful for them means that you won’t spend a huge amount of your teaching time insisting that your students look you in the eyes. Being aware that sitting to the side of a student on the Spectrum is far less intimidating than facing them can be the key that opens up trust and connection.

One thing I believe Autism teaches us is the nature of individualism and uniqueness. We just can’t put children in a box, irrespective of whether they have Autism OR if they are ‘neurotypical’.
All children learn differently. All children have different skills and abilities. All children have different interests. Some children will learn visually, some by doing, some verbally and some emotionally. Some children love Math and don’t like English; some love Science but don’t like Sport.  Doesn’t it make sense to create a differentiated curriculum to suit each child?

Does this idea make the job of the teacher harder?  Initially, yes. There will be more work and preparation to do, but ultimately if the child loves what they are learning, then behaviour problems will diminish, motivation will increase, concentration will improve and children will WANT to attend school.

The principle is the same for children on the Spectrum. Before I even consider a program for my students I need to spend some time observing, assessing and connecting. I need to understand how my student learns, what motivates them and what their sensory issues are. Each program needs to be uniquely and individually tailored to that child.

Parents with children on the Spectrum need our support. They need our understanding and they need our awareness. We owe children this!  Not only because of the benefits to them individually, but we owe it to them because as a community, we will be better off when we understand the importance and value of the Autism mind.

One of the greatest gifts I can give to parents is to ‘get it’. To understand what they are experiencing, to understand their child; and to see what they see in their child. I see parents’ faces light up when I recognize their children as more than just autistic. They often resolve to tears when I say “oh your child has the ability to achieve; we just have to find what motivates his desire to learn.”

 painted smiley on human fingers

Parents of children on the Spectrum are no longer willing to accept ‘less than’ education. Dr Tony Attwood, a well know expert on Asperger’s Syndrome said, “Parents of children on the Spectrum have a PHD in their child”. I find this to be profoundly true. They’ve also battled systems and authorities and have been constantly told to give up as their child will never achieve anything. Can you imagine how disheartening this must feel? Parents of students who have any kind of ‘disability’ are often the hardest to deal with because they’ve had to battle the hardest.  By the time that they get to school, they are in combat mode! Just letting them know you’re on their side will make a world of difference and YOU can’t just say it, you have to ‘be’ on their side. Parents after all want to be collaborators in their child’s education.

I view Autism through the eyes of potential and when I communicate this concept to parents I give them hope. Let’s make the path easier by supporting faster diagnosis methods, funding for support and therapies, and funding for community, education and professional awareness programs. In ten years we need these children to be shining with potential and productive, thriving members of society. Please watch this Ted Talk by Chris Varney. It is not only inspiring, but life changing for any educator.

by Karen Barley

“Taking education into the 21st Century”

Karen Barley is an internationally recognized educational consultant specializing in the needs of children with autism and their families. She has over 25 years of expertise as an educator, private one-on-one consultant, course developer and educational technology specialist.
Karen is especially successful connecting with children who have autism and creating behavioral, sensory and educational strategies that help children reach their full potential. Her highly personable style, combined with extensive research, knowledge and firsthand experience of the needs of children with autism, makes her extremely effective and innovative in tailoring individual solutions for families and their schools. Using new and existing approaches Karen integrates her pioneering work with iPad technology to create differentiated educational programs where children with autism can consistently experience success while learning.

In addition, Ms. Barley is an accomplished and engaging, sought after public speaker and teacher trainer. She has shared her significant insights and knowledge on such subjects as, Technology in Education, Technology and Autism, Autism Awareness, 21st Century Learning, Technology and Curriculum Development and other subjects in the United States, Australia and as a keynote guest speaker for international face to face and online conferences.