Visuals And Autism: 3 Tips To Take Action


Visuals and autism. These two words go hand in hand. How many times have you heard that autistic children are “visual learners”? Information from a picture lasts longer than auditory information that quickly comes and goes. Visuals are also typically more concrete and less abstract.

Visual supports are an evidence-based practice in autism. This means that it is a strategy that has been proven to be effective. Visual supports can help increase skills in the areas of communication, social interaction, task engagement, independence, play skills, and more. Visuals can also help create predictable systems and routines.

Example Of A Visual Support For Autism

An example of this is the “all done” bucket. This is a visual strategy I use in my classroom. An “all done” bucket is used to signify that it is time to finish up with certain toys or activities and transition to the next activity. Simply take a small container and velcro a picture that says “all done” with a symbol on it. You can grab a free visual for this in the Visual Support Starter Set.

a small clear plastic container with a laminated picture that says "all done" and a toy duck, pop it toy and small dinosaur inside.

To implement the “all done” bucket, start with setting a digital timer for two minutes. Say “2 more minutes, then all done”. For example, if the child is playing with play-doh, you might say “2 more minutes, then all done play-doh”. Bring the “all done” bucket closer to the child so they can see it. Give a reminder at 1 minute, “one more minute, then all done play-doh”. When the timer beeps, say “all done play-doh” and start to help the child put the play-doh into the “all done” bucket. It can be helpful to sing a “clean-up” song while helping the child put the items in the container. This is an additional way to create a predictable routine. Next, remove the container and show the child their visual schedule. Finally, transition to the next activity.

It can be helpful to have a transition object ready to help redirect the child. A transition object is an item that a child can hold during (and after) a transition. When used in tandem with an “all done” bucket, it can help redirect their attention from the thing they have to be all done with, onto a new object.

Implementing an “all done” bucket is just one example of using a visual support to increase understanding and create a predictable routine. Anytime you introduce a new visual support or visual strategy, there are 3 important things to remember. These tips will help you and your team reduce the overwhelm when you use new visuals for your autism classroom.

Tip One: Start Small With Visuals And Autism

Start small. Choose one strategy at a time so you, your team, and your students do not experience overwhelm.  Take baby steps and implement one thing at a time.

Tip Two: Be Consistent In Using Visuals For Autism

Be consistent. At a minimum, have a brief meeting with your team about the strategy and exactly how you will be using it.  How much time is on the timer?  What words will you use when you are teaching it to the child?  What happens if the child is upset at first?  These are all things you should chat about in order to provide that consistency.  The more consistent your team is, the more predictable the new routine is, and the faster the child will learn the new strategy!

Tip Three: Give Time For Visuals Supports To Work

Give it enough time.  One of my pet peeves is when a new strategy is tried once or twice and then someone says “I tried that, and it didn’t work”.  Many times it can take several weeks of implementing a new strategy before it shows signs of “working”.  Think about how long it takes any of us to form a new habit.  It’s important to give any new strategy at least 6 weeks of CONSISTENT implementation before talking about whether it is working or not.

Using visual supports is an evidence-based practice for autism. It’s essential that you are consistent and give the visuals enough time to work at home and in the classroom.

Listen to the podcast episode on this topic on The Autism Little Learners Podcast! Search for episodes 2 and 3.

If you use visual supports in your classroom or home, you are going to want to sign up for this free Visual Supports Starter Set ASAP! Click here to have one sent to your inbox. Also, be sure to read more about visual supports and how they can help autistic children here.

a picture with a variety of visual supports for autistic children there is an all done symbol, a wait mat, a first-then board, a visual schedule, an adapted book and a change card

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