How to Use Visual Supports for Children With Autism

Written by tanya konerman
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How to Use Visual Supports for Children With Autism
Visual supports can help boost communication between you and your child. (Visual moments from a great international zoo park - People image by fotoliamemberN from Fotolia.com)

Children with autism experience communication difficulties and may not respond well to verbal commands or routine changes. These children thrive under structured routines and with communication through visual supports. Because autistic children often have strong visual skills, visual supports help them interact with others, express their feelings and understand their daily schedule. If you are the parent of an autistic child, you can learn to use visual steps to improve communication with your child.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Photographs of rooms, places, people and objects in the daily routine
  • Picture symbols of activities and objects
  • Poster board
  • Clear contact paper
  • Food labels
  • Calendar
  • Portable schedule
  • Three-ring binder

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Create visual supports to reflect the child's routine. Use a combination of photographs and picture symbols. Choose photographs for people, specific objects and any abstract objects or activities in your child's routine. Make picture symbols for general activities. Draw your own symbols, use clipart or download pre-made picture symbols from visual support websites.

  2. 2

    Mount visual supports on poster board and laminate them with clear contact paper for durability. Label each picture card with one word to describe the activity. Visual supports generally include pictures for the following activities: eat, potty, school, snack, toys, brush teeth, bath or bed.

  3. 3

    Show your child the picture symbol or photograph before each activity. Make enough cards to reflect every part of his routine. Encourage him to use the cards to let you know when he wants something.

  4. 4

    Label food and hang picture symbols for food choices on the refrigerator door. Food labels and picture symbols help your child identify and select foods. Some children with autism are picky eaters. Picture symbols can help you get your child to eat. Place picture symbols for a meal menu on the refrigerator door and ask your child to choose cards for the foods that she prefers to eat.

  5. 5

    Develop an activity calendar with picture symbols. Explain the daily routine to your child at the beginning of the day to help him understand his schedule. Your child will want to know which days are school days and which are home days because each activity requires a different routine. Calendars also help introduce a change in routine such as a doctor's appointment, a babysitter or family trip. Put picture symbols on the calendar that describe the most important activities of the day. When a routine change occurs, have your child place the new activity symbol on his calendar so that he feels in control of his schedule.

  6. 6

    Make a portable schedule for your child to carry with her if she has many activities outside of the house. Place picture symbols that describe her daily routine in a three-ring binder or photo album. The portable schedule will help her feel comfortable when she moves to different locations throughout her day because the schedule provides consistency.

  7. 7

    Hang a choice board to give your child a chance to select activities. A choice board is a collection of picture symbols that allow your child to choose activities that are part of his schedule. Place the choice board in one location and let your child know that he can choose a picture card to initiate an activity.

  8. 8

    Design a "stop" box and "no" symbol. A "stop" box allows your child to communicate when she wants to stop an activity. Use a shoebox, basket or envelope for a "stop" box. When your child tires of an activity, she places the picture symbol representing the activity in the box. She can also use the "no" symbol. You may also want a "no" symbol to use whenever an object, activity or food is unavailable.

Tips and warnings

  • If your child has trouble understanding an activity, use picture symbols to break down the task into easier steps.
  • When you start a schedule, perform the tasks yourself first to demonstrate them to your child. Your child will learn by watching you.
  • Ask your child to help you hang the picture symbols in the appropriate place as you explain the schedule. Active participation helps your child learn the routine.
  • Keep the visual supports simple and concise. Use large pictures and words that you commonly use when you describe the activity.
  • Create picture symbols that reflect important rules such as "no biting" or "wash your hands."
  • If your child seems frustrated with a specific picture of an activity, change out the picture for something else. Doing so may relieve frustration.

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