What is a Visual Support?

We often hear about visual supports and schedules for children and adults with autism.  A visual schedule is made up of pictures or objects representing events that happen during a time period.  For example, the task of brushing teeth can be broken down into steps:

  1. Get out toothbrush and toothpaste
  2. Open the cap on the toothpaste
  3. Squeeze the toothpaste out and onto the toothbrush

and so on…….

Another way a visual schedule is used would be to outline events of the day.  Wake-up, get dressed, eat breakfast….and any other task your child usually does in his/her daily routine.  Think about yourself for a moment.  Don’t you want to know what is coming up?  Most adults use schedule books or apps to stay organized and focused.  Children are no different but we often forget about their need for a schedule.

The pictures above are from one of my favorite websites that offers free visual schedules and supports Do2learn

We know that schedules reduce anxiety about preferred and non-preferred events by helping students to prepare ahead of time.  Why can’t we just write down a list?   Temple Grandin is known as ‘the most famous woman in the world with autism.’  She describes herself as a ‘visual thinker’ and advocates for the use of visual supports with pictures rather than verbal or written words.  She even wrote a book called, Thinking in Pictures.



How can visual supports be used?

  1. Decide what block of time you want to use.  A morning, an hour, a specific task, and so on.  There’s no right or wrong timeframe for a visual schedule.
  2. Show your child what a block of time means.  A visual representation such as a clock or a time-timer app works best.
  3. List the steps of the task OR the tasks you want your child to complete.
  4. Offer choices.
  5. Build-in fun!

What can I use to make a visual?

Some programs such as Boardmaker tend to be expensive. It’s easy and affordable to make your own visuals.

  • Take photos with a digital camera or your smartphone.
  • Cut out pictures from print media such as magazines or catalogs.
  • Download and print photos from websites.

When taking your own photos make sure you be sure to focus on the actual object.  Backgrounds can be distracting.

It’s best to use the REAL item versus a list of words because many children with autism learn best with the actual picture representation.


What’s worked for you?  Let me know by commenting below!

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