Tip of the Week: Using Activity Schedules to Improve Bedtime Routine

Many of the families I work with struggle to get their child with autism through the bedtime routine. An activity schedule can help your child independently manage the routine.

You should select 3-5 tasks that your child can complete independently. The final task should be something that your child finds reinforcing, preferably something that can be done in or near the bed, such as being read to or listening to music. Based on your child’s reading skills, you can use pictures or text for the schedule.

You can arrange the activity schedule as a picture schedule or a checklist. Below are two samples. For the picture schedule sample shown below, I did an online search for the appropriate images, but when possible, I prefer to actually take a picture of the item or the learner engaged in the activity.

PICTURE SCHEDULE: I use self-adhesive laminating paper (which you can purchase at any office supply store) and laminate all pieces. Each task on the schedule has Velcro so the learner can arrange items in the order he/she wishes and can remove them once that activity is complete.

CHECKLIST SAMPLE: I use self-adhesive laminating paper for checklists as well. This way the learner can use a dry erase marker or crayon and reuse the same page each day. For many learners, I attach this to a clipboard and the clipboard hangs in an easy-to-reach spot.

What I like about the activity schedule beyond the fact that it promotes independence is that it also allows for some choice. The reinforcing activity must always come last, but the learner can choose what they want to have for that reinforcing activity. The learner can also have some flexibility for what order to place the items on the schedule. For example, your learner might prefer to pack his lunch before taking a shower. When implemented correctly, it’s a win-win for both parents and children.

For more information on implementing activity schedules, I highly recommend the book Activity Schedules for Children with Autism by McClanahan & Krantz.

Note: if you decide to use the iPad as the final item on the activity schedule, you should set the timer so the iPad turns itself off. To do this:

1) open the Clock app
2) click “Timer” on the bottom right of the screen
3) click “When Timer Ends”
4) scroll all the way to the bottom of that menu and click “Stop Playing”
5) set the timer for the appropriate amount of time,
6) hit “Start”


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.