Studio 3 reviews a new online digital tool for developing visual timelines to support children with additional needs.
Picturepath is an easy to use app that constructs a digital visual timeline for your child or student. Developed by Richard Nurse in collaboration with Nova, this app allows parents, teachers, and children to collaborate on creating an easy to edit visual timeline for the day, helping children to understand their day, make it as predictable as possible, and reduce anxiety.
Richard was inspired by his son Freddie, who is autistic, to create a clear, concise and cost-effective means of creating a visual timeline to help Freddie understand and predict daily events, thus reducing his anxiety.
Not only is the app fun for kids to use and interact with, it can also be shared between schools and homes and interactively edited as the day progresses. There can be a sense of achievement when an individual has completed a task on the timeline, and the app is tailored to be easily navigated by child and parent alike.
‘Children are at the centre of picturepath. Children can see changes to routines from parents and school timelines, relieving anxiety caused by an unexpected change in plans.’ - Picturepath
Visual supports have been used more and more often with autistic pupils to aid learning, as research has shown that autistic individuals tend to learn best using visual supports as opposed to solely auditory input. Maureen Bennie, from the Autism Awareness Centre in Canada, states that, ‘Seeing it, rather than saying it, helps the person retain and process information’ (2017). Temple Grandin’s book, Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism, demonstrates her personal experience of perceiving the world in an entirely concrete and visual way. Grandin’s work, and that of other autistic advocates, stresses the importance of teaching individuals based on their levels of ability and understanding.
There is a huge body of research that supports using concrete and visual stimuli to aid learning, not just for autistic students (Rao and Gagie, 2006). Using visual supports can help to add structure and security to a child’s day, particularly around unpredictable and new activities that may cause stress and uncertainty for the child. The following short video demonstrates how a visual timeline can allow the child to take control of their day and reduce anxiety and uncertainty surrounding events which can be difficult to predict:
As demonstrated by this video, visual supports can encourage independence and planning. However, Richard identified a fundamental flaw in the production of physical visual support plans, being that they are time consuming and costly to produce, can easily be mislaid, and cannot be altered to accommodate for unexpected changes. Particularly for schools producing hundreds of individualised timelines for specific students, this can amount to a huge amount of time and money being spent on producing visual supports. Hayes et al. (2010) states that, while visual supports are useful cognitive tools for learning, they are challenging to create, distribute and use. Hayes advocates a simple mobile interface for the production and distribution of visual supports, being less time consuming, easier to share between individuals and devices, and that is user-friendly for autistic individuals. That is where picturepath comes in.
In essence, the app works with you to create a visual timeline for a specific event or a full day. There are in-built activities such as ‘bed time’ or ‘brush teeth’ to help plan for daily routines, as well as allowing the option to add your own activity if there is not one specifically tailored to your needs. The activities are accompanied by a visual symbol – here, you can add your own images – to help make the step easy to understand. One school that uses picturepath to support children with additional needs took pictures of the classrooms that the children would be in for each lesson so that each child could see in advance where they would be that day. This reduced anxiety and confusion for each individual.
These images are then displayed as a full day, or in a ‘now and next’ format, which can often be less overwhelming. The child can then themselves swipe to dismiss an activity when it has been completed. The benefits of having this timeline available in a digital format means that it can not only be easily edited, readily available and exciting for the child to use – it is also extremely convenient and available to hand.
The Autism Awareness Centre notes that whether we have additional support needs or not, all of us use some kind of visual tool to create schedules and keep ourselves organised. When faced with the question, ‘When should you stop using visual supports with a child?’, the answer they give is ‘Never’:
‘We use iPhones, daytimers, desk calendars, and checklists. We use these tools to create visual schedules for our folks on the spectrum because they create predictability which lessens anxiety. Do you stop using your daytimer, calendar or iPhone? Do you shop without a list? The answer is no, so don’t stop using visuals with people on the spectrum.’
Visual supports are undoubtedly an incredibly useful tool to use with autistic and non-autistic individuals alike, and picturepath makes this not only easy but fun. We would recommend this as a tool for families and schools alike to collaboratively reduce anxiety and uncertainty in everyday life. For families, the app is free to download from the App Store and Google Play, with the option to upgrade to access special features. For schools, the first 30 days are free of charge, and timelines can be displayed on whiteboards, computers, tablets or phones (or printed off to be used where internet access is limited). An entire term of lessons can be programmed quickly and easily amended if there are special events. School timelines can be shared with home carers to give a view of what’s been happening in school and enabling pupils and teachers to see what the child is doing after school, reducing uncertainty that often surrounds the transition from school to home.
If you’re interested in trying picturepath for free or if you have any questions or suggestions for improvement then email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to their website www.mypicturepath.com.
Bennie, M. (2017) 'Visual Supports for Autism: A Step by Step Guide', Autism Awareness Centre. [Available from: https://autismawarenesscentre.com/visual-supports-best-way-use/]
Grandin, T. (1995) Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism, London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Hayes, G.R., Hirano, S., Marcu, G., Monibi, M., Nguyen, D.H., & Yeganyan, M. (2010). ‘Interactive Visual Supports for Children with Autism’, Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 14: 663-680.
Rao, S.M. & Gagie, B. (2006). ‘Learning Through Seeing and Doing: Visual Supports for Children and Autism’, TEACHING Exceptional Children, 38(6): 26-33.