Long ago when I was a classroom teacher, I learned the wisdom of keeping a visual timer in my classroom. As a behavior analyst, I continue to recommend that parents use this device as an integral part of their child’s behavior plan. A visual timer can play an important role in managing the behavior of all children; something I frequently point out to parents who are managing children with and without special needs.
Here are some ways I have found a visual timer to be useful:
Transitions can be difficult for all children. Really, who likes leaving a preferred activity? A visual timer can be set with an agreed upon time (“You can have 5 more minutes of playing Legos and then…”). The timer is set and along with your verbal prompt, it provides a visual display of how much time is left.
For individuals who are little more tech savvy, there are also many apps that provide a visual timer. For example, Picture Prompt Timer is an iTunes product which allows you to display two photographs in a first/then format (First you do this, then you get this) with a corresponding bar that shows the individual how much time is left for a task.
I know many children who start out understanding that they need to complete a task, but then seem to forget what they are doing. For this scenario, keep directions short, break the task into smaller pieces and use a device like Time Tracker.
Time Tracker has bright long lasting lights that give visual cues as to the amount of time remaining to complete a task. For added emphasis, you can add a sound effect to play each time a section changes color. You can program exactly how long each section remains lighted, or you can select an automatic setting that divides time for you.
I have to admit that I never enjoy a visit to the dentist. This is high on my list of “non-preferred activities.” But I also know that visits are always less than an hour long and I like the verbal prompting from the hygienist telling me when she is halfway done or almost finished. I think many of our kids like knowing when a less preferred activity is almost over. The visual timer is a clear marker for when something will be all done.
When a visual timer is paired with an activity schedule, it can play a significant role in building independent living skills. My son knows that when he brushes his teeth, he has to keep brushing until the teeth timer buzzes. Without this timer, I would always have to be present to make sure he brushed for an appropriate amount of time. We were able to graduate to the auditory timer after building a routine, which meant completing a task analysis for teeth brushing that was initially paired with a visual timer.
As you use your timer, I am sure you will come up with many individual uses that will meet the needs of your child. Think about that hectic morning routine! How could you break it into smaller tasks and add a timer? You may even know some adults who could benefit from this type of organization!