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Visual Routine
Reviewed by A. Taylor SLPAs

Visual Routine is a simple and inexpensive easy-to-program visual schedule.  The schedule is easy to program and use, while allowing flexibility in adding text, audio or images to routine steps. It also has a unique feature which allows embedding of up to four choices within a routine’s step.  These can be used for choices (i.e. as part of a Morning routine, the choices eggs or pancakes could be embedded into one step.  This feature could also be used to break down a step into smaller steps i.e. for a Lunch Time Routine, steps could be broken down into one, two or three tasks for each step: wash hands, sit at table; eat; all done, plate in sink, wash hands; play time )

Features 
Fully customizable- add your own audio, text, images
Routines can be as long as needed- user scrolls through steps of routine
Check mark system with auditory feedback for completed tasks
Text only option for readers (with Monkey image for each written step or task)
Picture only option for non-readers (with written Routine title)
“Choices” feature for tasks in a routine step
Fast and easy setup

Using Visual Routine

When you first open the app, you will see a green chalkboard background with wood grain accents. At the top is a calendar icon and the title “Visual Routine”. Right below this title is “My Routines”, with the titles of the routines you have added to the app.  Below the “My Routines” section is “Edit”-this is where you will make new routines (see Making and Editing Routines).  To view a routine, select a routine from “My Routines” and tap on its title to bring up that routine. For example, to access our morning routine, I simply tap “J’s morning” to see his morning schedule pop up.  The screen will display about 3 steps of the routine; each step is separated outlined in a rectangular box.  If there is audio recorded for a step, there will be a triangular play symbol to the right of the text- press it to hear the recording.  The steps can be scrolled through as the steps are completed.  As each step in the routine is completed, touch anywhere in the step area to add a check mark to the check box- a pleasant bell sound will indicate the task has been completed. If there are choices embedded in a step-for example eggs, waffles, cereal- the user can either tap the title of whichever one is preferred, to automatically add a check mark to that entire step’s check box or he/she can first tap the image to view the image as a full screen.  When all the check boxes in a routine have been marked, a pop up window will appear indicating the routine is complete. Press OK to dismiss it, and you will be returned to the main screen of the app. (the check mark feature can be shut off, see Options).

Making and Editing Routines

The Settings are on the main screen under the title “Edit”.  Depending on the user, having the Edit features openly accessible on the main page may be a problem, so be aware of this.  Here you can begin a new routine (New Routine), edit an existing routine (Edit My Routines), and access Options.

New Routine
Touch the New Routine bar to make a new routine. At the top of the screen you will see a Back button on the left hand side if you want to return to the main screen. There is a Preview and Save button on the right hand side, and a Routine Name box where you will enter the title as well. This title will be displayed on the main screen under My Routines

On the left hand side of the screen are 4 buttons: Add, Picture, Audio, and Add choice.  Start with Add.

Add
To add the text, tap Add.  A window will pop up with a text box, just enter the written step and press Save in the pop- up window.  This works best for short sentences. Short sentences with 4-5 words will display fully in a routine’s steps, but if you enter a longer sentence, it will be truncated with ” …” at the end.  It is best to keep steps as short as possible to make them more clear but if you need larger sentences to show in each step, be aware of this.

Tip: You can add picture only steps by leaving the text box blank and pressing Save!

Picture
If you tap Picture, any existing steps you have made will pop up in a window. Tap the image area of the step you want to add a picture too, and an Add Picture screen will come up.   You can choose from the following options: Take New, Choose From Library, or Choose from Stock.  Take New allows you to take a new picture directly from the app (You must have iPad2 or iPad3/newest iPad as the original iPad has no camera). Choose From Library takes you to your photos stored on your iPad.  You can sync any photos you own through iTunes and have them show up in your Photo albums.  That means even if you have an iPad 1 you can transfer your photos to your iPad and access them through this button.  You could also take a screen shot from a Google image search to find photos.  Choose from Stock uses a stock photo provided in the app. (There are only 5 sample images here at the time of this review- play with toy, eat breakfast, use iPad, brush teeth, eat dinner. You’ll likely want to add more personalized photos of your own anyway, but perhaps the developer intends to add more images to choose from in the future).  

Audio
To add audio to any of your steps, tap the Audio button and a window with all your steps that you have entered will pop up.  Tap anywhere on the step you want to add voice/sound to, and an Add Soundtrack screen will appear.  Press Start Record to begin recording a message (or perhaps an environmental sound), then Play Record to hear what you recorded.  When the Play Record button is in use it will change to Stop Playback. Tap Stop Playback to stop listening to your recording.  You can either rerecord a message by pressing Start Record again, or press Save in the upper right hand corner to save your work and be brought back to the New Routine screen.

Add Choice
This is my favorite feature- you can embed up to four choices in a step! This is great if your user needs choices to help him accomplish a task (i.e. ‘strawberry toothpaste’ or ‘cinnamint toothpaste’ for a brushing teeth routine, or perhaps ‘eggs’ or ‘waffles’ for a Breakfast routine).  This could also be used to break down a step in a routine into multiple parts of a step.  For example, for a homework step as part of our Afternoon Routine, we have four mini steps embedded: get Pencil, Math, Spelling, Mom Checks.  To add a choice, tap the Add Choice button and a window with existing steps will appear.  Tap the existing step you want to add to, then enter a choice name, you will be returned to the New Routine screen.  Tap the monkey image to add any pictures you want for your choices.  You can display up to four choices or mini steps this way.  If you attempt to add more, a pop up box will remind you of the limit.

To save your routine, press the Save button in the upper right hand corner, or you can preview it first, then go back and save.  If you have forgotten to enter a name for your routine, a pop up window will remind you to do so before you can save.

Edit My Routines

If you’ve made a mistake or want to add a step, you can go back and do so by tapping Edit My Routines, then tapping on the title of the routine you would like to edit. This will open your routine for editing.  Steps of a routine cannot be ordered through drag and drop, but you can tap on each step to change the data within each step fairly quickly.  To change the text simply tap the text- a new pop up window will appear for you to enter the replacement text. To change a photo, simply tap the existing photo to choose a new photo through the Add Picture menu. (You can also use the Photo button on the left hand side of the screen).  If there is no current photo for the current text but you’d like to add one, just tap the monkey image to the left of the text. This will take you to the Add Picture menu to add a new image.  To add audio, simply tap Audio.  This will bring up a window with all the steps. Then tap anywhere in a step box to bring up the Add Soundtrack screen and follow the steps just as you would do for a New Routine. To add or edit choices,

To delete a routine, simply slide your finger along the title bar of the routine, then tap the red delete button.

Options

There are two options to control through the Options page.  The first is Show Completed Routine Items and the second is Sound FX.  Check the box(es) next to the features you want to use.  The sound FX is the bell sound that you hear after you have checked off a task as completed.

Wish List
I really appreciate that I can make a quick text only routine without having to add pictures.  However, I always have a wish list, and what works for me may not work for another.  Here’s what would enhance this app further and make it accessible for more users, in my opinion.
For individuals who tend to explore buttons in an app, or that have motor difficulties, be aware that the editing features are not hidden in this app- they are easily accessible through the main screen. I personally like this for quick edits, but I know other users that would need an hidden editing screen to protect the schedules from being deleted or altered accidentally.
Also the calendar icon used within the app is a bit of a conundrum. Visual Routine perennially displays the date “May 31” in what I initially though was a programmable calendar window, at the top of the main screen.  Actually the date box is just for display and cannot be changed.  This icon is also at the top of each created schedule, along with an uneditable title “Do Routine”. I would rather have the individual schedule title displayed there instead of “Do Routine”, and also have the app either display the current date, or scrap that altogether for a more generic calendar icon. The app’s description in iTunes also mentions it can serve as a replacement for a physical scheduler or calendar, but I think its name of visual + routine is a more accurate description.

For non-readers, a small thumbnail next to title of each individual schedule, would promote maximum independence; with a small image in the title, they could open the correct schedule on their own without relying on someone else to read the choices.  I would also love to use text only without the monkey face icon appearing next to each instruction entered-this would make this text entry feature of the app more appropriate for teens or adults using Visual Routine. However there is a very simple workaround- I just took a picture of a blank background (i.e. plain green background to match the app) and inserted that as a picture to go with the text for each step. I also wouldn’t mind a drag and drop editing interface where I could drag the steps of a routine in a new order if needed.

There are a couple of frills that I think could be added, such as an existing bank of pictures (it comes with 5 sample images), and an in-app Internet search to find pictures.  While certainly not necessities, these features would save a step and time for us folks who don’t want to go out of the app to save images to our devices.

Bottom line:  The simple to use interface makes for really quick and easy schedule making.  I like that I can make text only schedules, or picture only schedules, or combine both.  The ability to add several choices within a step is also really useful. The auditory feedback when a step in the routine is checked off is great as well.  If the open access to editing is not going to be a problem for your user, this is certainly worth considering if the price remains at 5 dollars.
For non-readers, a small thumbnail next to title of each individual schedule, would promote maximum independence; with a small image in the title, they could open the correct schedule on their own without relying on someone else to read the choices. I would also love to use text only without the monkey face icon appearing next to each instruction entered-this would make this text entry feature of the app more appropriate for teens or adults using Visual Routine. However there is a very simple workaround- I just took a picture of a blank background (i.e. plain green background to match the app) and inserted that as a picture to go with the text for each step. I also wouldn’t mind a drag and drop editing interface where I could drag the steps of a routine in a new order if needed.

There are a couple of frills that I think could be added, such as an existing bank of pictures (it comes with 5 sample images), and an in-app Internet search to find pictures. While certainly not necessities, these features would save a step and time for us folks who don’t want to go out of the app to save images to our devices.

Bottom line: The simple to use interface makes for really quick and easy schedule making. I like that I can make text only schedules, or picture only schedules, or combine both. The ability to add several choices within a step is also really useful. The auditory feedback when a step in the routine is checked off is great as well. If the open access to editing is not going to be a problem for your user, this is certainly worth considering if the price remains at 5 dollars.

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