Using visual supports with autistic children is an evidence-based practice. Numerous studies indicate that visual supports make positive impacts on learning. Autistic individuals tend to be visual learners, so it makes sense that visual supports work. They provide structure, consistency, and predictability. There are so many types of visual supports, and this free resource will provide you with a few of my favorites! These have been so helpful in my classroom and have promoted independence with my students. I know that as educators, we all want our students to become as independent as possible!
A first-then board provides children with information regarding what is going to be happening. Rather than a longer visual schedule, a first-then board keeps the expectation very simple. It often works very well when a child needs some motivation to do a less preferred activity. “First I do this, then I can do this”. Many times, a first-then board is a great place to start as a precursor to a visual schedule. You can download first-then boards as part of the free Visual Supports Starter Set.
Once your student or child seems to understand the first-then board, you can move on to a partial visual schedule. A partial visual schedule is one that shows a few pictures at a time, vs a half day or full day at a time. It can be best to start with 3 pictures at a time, then move to 4, then 5, etc.…. The schedule can be horizontal or vertical. It shows children a sequence of what is coming up in their day in a predictable format, which can reduce stress and anxiety. The starter set includes some pictures to get started, but you can check out the full visual schedule resource here.
All Done Bucket
An all done bucket is so helpful when children are playing with favorite toys or items. The way an all done bucket works, is that you set a timer to let your child know how long they have left with their toy/item. Give reminders. Then, when the timer beeps, help them place the object into the all done bucket. This may be difficult at first, but the more consistent you are, the more it becomes part of their routine. Then, you will see less resistance. You can simply use any basket, bucket, or bin for this. Print off the visual support on the next page to tape or Velcro inside the bucket. Read more about how to use an all done bucket to encourage smoother transitions, check out this blog post.
A star chart is a form of “duration mapping”. It can help count downtime for children to help them prepare for a transition. This strategy was developed by Kari Dunn Buron and is explained in-depth in her book, “The Incredible 5 Point Scale”. Sometimes it is helpful to use this instead of a timer because it gives you more flexibility as to when to end the activity. Here’s an example: You are at a playground and leaving is usually difficult. After you get there, place one star on the strip and say, “there’s one star, four more, and then car”. Continue to do this based on the amount of time you will be there. If you sense that your child or student is tired or worn out, you can place the stars on the strip faster so you can leave on a positive note, before a meltdown occurs. This strategy provides another effective way to help young autistic children with transitions.
You can introduce and use a change card to help children understand and deal with changes in their schedules. When children are rigid, changes can be so hard! When beginning to use a change card, use it for changes that are positive. For example, if the schedule has an activity that you know is not preferred by your child, use the change card and then put up a picture of one of their favorite activities instead. Once they are used to this, you can use it for any changes!
So many of our students like to hold onto little toys or objects during transitions (or all the time). Many times, it is totally fine to hold these items! Other times they become too distracting during “work time”, or when they are working on an activity that requires them to use their hands. During these times, teaching the child how to use a “wait mat” will help free up their hands and reduce anxiety. A wait mat is different from an ”all done bucket”. A wait mat is simply a predictable spot on the table to place the toy or object the child is holding on to. After the activity is done, they can have the object back to hold.
Adapted books are so valuable! For our littlest learners or students who have difficulty maintaining attention when the teacher is reading, adapted books can help. By giving busy little hands something to hold on to (the picture), and a predictable and visual way to interact (matching the picture to the book), you have a recipe for increased engagement! You can adapt any book! At the early childhood level, a board book can provide more durable pages that will hold up better. Another form of adapted books are interactive visual books, that also provide a picture to match to each page of the book. These can be made as simple or complex as needed for students. In the free Visual Supports Starter Set, you will receive pictures that can be used to make the following books into adapted books: Brown Bear, Brown Bear & Go! Go! Go! Stop!.
Free Visual Supports Supply List
You’ve read about each of the visual supports in the starter set. Now, it’s time to make them and put them into action! To help, I’ve put together a supply list for you. If it is not in your budget to purchase a laminating machine and lamination pouches, use contact paper from the store (or the self-adhesive laminate on this list). When smaller pictures need lamination, you can simply use clear packing tape! I’d love to hear how these work for you. Let me know!
You can sign up to have the free Visual Support Starter Set emailed to you by clicking here.
If you love the free Visual Supports Starter Set, and you are ready to implement visual schedules in your classroom or home, check out this huge visual schedule resource