Visual Supports

AT Considerations for ASD Wikispace link:

Visual Supports - Texas Guide for Effective Treatment (TARGET):

Visual Supports - National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders:

Visual supports can take many forms: Objects, photographs, realistic drawings, line drawings, written words, visual timers or clocks, menus, calendars, maps, signs, instructions, and graphic organizers

Why use visual strategies?
  • They capitalize on the visual processing strengths of students with autism. These students may have difficulty processing high amounts of auditory information.
  • When paired with verbal instructions, they can increase comprehension
  • Information presented visually is more concrete, static, and permanent
  • Allows for more independent responding when a peer or educator is not directly assisting the student
  • Allows for more familiarity and predictability with daily activities

Visual Schedules

Generic suggestions
  • Determine whether photos, picture icons, or objects are most appropriate for the student. If using photos, capture images of the actual student engaging in the behavior, or of actual locations being utilized/taught. Photos can be imported into Boardmaker and printed as icons. Another option is Picture This software, which contains thousands of photographs (see references).

  • For students who follow verbal instructions consistently when visual supports are not used , consider avoiding the extra step of checking a schedule before the next activity. Use more generic visual icons that the teacher holds/points to which symbolize the type of activity to be completed next (e.g., work with teacher).

  • Avoid permant schedules that cannot be removed. Portable schedules allow for easier access by the student, and remove the necessity of going back to a particular location repeatedly to access the next activity.

  • Materials Options:

    • Laminated strip of pictures that designate the steps of an activity (e.g., toileting, cafeteria routine)
    • Individual pages in 3-ring binder designating the activities to be completed, sometimes called an "activity book"
    • Dry erase board
    • Table in Microsoft Word that teacher can write or type in the steps to be completed, including a box to check when completed
  • Behavior alert: Requiring students to access their schedule(s) at a distance before each activity adds an additional "demand" to the situation and increases the likelihood of non-compliance. Locating the schedule closer to the student reduces the "response effort" involved and may lower non-compliance.

  • Consider:
    • Include a component for the student to know he/she is finished with a task or series of tasks (will have to teach the concept of "finished")
    • Imbed a reinforcer icon within the activity schedule, depending on the student's reinforcement needs. It can be after each activity, or at the end of a series of activities. If a token system is being used, the actual token or a visual representation of it can be included/attached

Student Daily Schedule

Student_Schedule_items.jpg Picture_Schedule_Strip.png Student_Schedule_written.jpg
  • Lists the major activities of the day for the student
  • May include more generic representations of activities, such as "work with teacher" or "independent work" (pictures, icons, text). These generic icons may have a corresponding to an activity schedule (see below), which displays the specific activities to be completed, or steps within an activity.

Activity Schedules
These are specific to a particular activity (steps of brushing teeth) or series of activities to be completed (use restroom, brush teeth, wash hands, dress, etc.)
  • Can be pictures, drawings, or words
  • Increases independence, aides with transitions, and may increase attention to tasks/activities. As a result, problem behaviors may be reduced.
  • Individualize the number of tasks required, based on how many the student can complete before reinforcement or a break is provided. Start with lower numbers of activities initially
  • Implementation Options: 1) Student matches icon on schedule to corresponding picture of activity or to activity itself; 2) "Finished" box for icons

Teaching Students to Follow Activity Schedules:
1) Hand the student the activity schedule & give verbal instruction
2) Prompt student as needed to point to the icon/picture/text that represents the activity
3) If student does not retrieve and begin the activity, use prompts to guide him/her to the activity
4) Consider standing behind the student while tasks are completed, avoiding verbal instructions.
5) Once an activity is completed, the student should then identify the next activity in the schedule and begin it. Follow steps 2-4 for each.
6) Once the student has completed all activities, prompt him/her to notify you of it
7) Check the student's work, verbally commenting on each activity and the corresponding icon/picture associated with it
8) Provide verbal praise and reinforcement
  • Initially, keep all activities within reach of the student from his/her desk. Over time, the student can be taught to retrieve activities from other parts of the room and return to his/her desk to complete them.
  • Keep verbal prompts to a minimum once the initial instruction has been given begin the series of activities. Instead, use gestures and partial physical prompts (e.g., guide student's hand towards the task). Note: the physical prompts in this case are used to demonstrate the required movements, not as a response to non-compliance.

Other Visual Strategies:
Hallway_standing2.jpg Computer_off_limits2.jpg Writing_Station.jpg
  • Icon for "stop": stop sign, red circle, etc.
  • Icon for "quiet": use picture of someone signaling quiet (consider using an image of the student performing the behavior)
  • Green / Red icons: Can be separate or on different sides of the same icon.
    • Green = teacher is available to _ (talk, play, help, etc.); Student's behavior is acceptable at that time; Student can continue the current activity
    • Red = teacher is not available to ; Signals that student's behavior is not acceptable at that time; Signals the end of an activity
    • Modification: reinforcement (actual items/activities or tokens) can be given when "green" is displayed, but is not available when "red" is displayed.
  • Teacher wears bracelet or other easily recognizable clothing item that symbolizes when something can or cannot happen at that time. This is similar to the red/green icon strategy.
    • Wearing yellow wristband = teacher available to
    • Not wearing yellow wristband = teacher not available to _
Moving from objects to photographs:
  • Option 1: See:
  • Option 2: Teach student to receptively identify the photographs, starting with only 1 option (the correct selection), then add additional photos (2-3). Use errorless teachign procedures initially, fading prompts over time to allow for more independent responding.
  • Option 3: Teach student to match objects to corresponding pictures and vice versa. Start with only the item and photograph, moving to an array of 3-4 before fading the object. Use errorless teaching procedures initially (prompts), then fade prompts until student can do so independently.
  • Follow same procedures for moving from photographs to drawings.
  • When using photographs or icons, consider including the written word for that image. It may be possible to fade the photographs or drawings over time, so that only the text is needed.

Generic Suggestions:
  • Present information in more than one format (photos / sketches / written)
  • Use completed models for student reference (projects / worksheets / activities)