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Visual supports are a great tool for people of all ages with autism. This tool kit will define a variety of supports and how they can be used to help increase communication, along with other benefits.
Visual supports are a great tool for people of all ages with autism. Visual supports can be pictures, illustrations, objects, picture symbols, daily schedules or choice boards. They can be used to help increase communication and promote independence, and provide a vehicle for monitoring and decreasing challenging behaviors, and are often used in a schedule (multi-step) format, or as individual pictures.
Milestones provides consultation services to all family members, professionals, and self-advocates. Services include connecting participants to resources and providing general information and assistance. We also offer a free Autism Help Desk. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at 216.464.7600 or
Download the Visual Support Tool Kit
The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors, and may not reflect the official position of Milestones Autism Resources. The publication is designed to provide guidance concerning the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that Milestones Autism Resources is not engaged in the rendering of legal, medical, or professional services. If legal, medical, or other expert advice or assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.
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Creating a schedule for after school or unscheduled free time is crucial for you and your child. Individuals with autism don’t know what to expect next in their day, or may have anxiety about their routine and they may not have the ability to ask. A visual schedule will remind them what will happen next. Schedules can have drawings or pictures, or can be written on a chart
Schedules can also be useful if your child has difficulty with change. Once your child is familiar with a visual schedule, you will be able to slowly introduce new activities or a different sequence in their day, and this will help them learn to be more flexible.
You can have many different schedules for different parts of the day. A general daily schedule can show an overview of what is happening during the entire day, such as school, chores, homework, leisure time, meals, and waking and sleeping time. You may find a need for additional schedules for individual activities like getting ready for bed, or for brushing teeth. Hanging these schedules near where they will be used (like the sink for brushing teeth) will help remind your child what to do.
Depending on the needs of your child, you can create a visual schedule as general or as detailed in steps as needed. These websites offer suggestions on how to create your own visual schedules:
As your child becomes familiar with following a particular schedule, you can begin to fade your directions and prompts until your child is able to follow the schedule on his or her own, without any prompting from you.
After you have taught your child an appropriate behavior or verbal response, instead of continuing to verbally prompt, you may want to try a visual reminder.
Children may respond well to a visual checklist about their behavior. You can handwrite the list or use a dry-erase board to make the list – it does not have to be formal!
Once a child performs the behavior or task correctly, they should refer to his/her visual checklist and cross it off. An example of this kind of list would be:
Using the bathroom
The visual checklist would have these questions written out or as pictures, if your child cannot read. By using one- or two-word directions, you will eventually be able to fade out the pictures and leave the simple directions.
After completing a task successfully on his/her own, you can add to the task, or start with a new checklist.
The term priming refers to previewing an activity or task with a child prior to it happening. It is commonly used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), and is a research-based intervention proven to be successful in preparing someone for an upcoming event. One example of priming would be reading a book to a child before he hears it in school that week. There are more examples on the website Positively Autism.
Here is a video from OCALI that illustrates the concept of priming.
There are many websites, smartphone apps and software programs that cater to pictograms and pictures for making visual charts. Some suggestions for sites to try are:
Milestones has Guiding Questions that can help when you are interviewing new services for your child. These printable guides can go with you to an appointment and prompt you with questions that can help you make a decision.
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