Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Incorporating Visuals to Support Individuals with Autism

Visual supports are an evidenced-based practice for individuals with autism, language delays, developmental delays, auditory processing disorders, learning disabilities, ADD, and other communication disorders. Actually, it helps all learners. Visuals serve multiple purposes. It’s a tool that supports communication and behavior, increases access to the curriculum, and increases successful participation in and completion of curriculum requirements.  


WHAT ARE VISUALS? In contrast to auditory input, visuals are concrete, meaningful, static, and permanent.  


  • Body movements, gestures, facial expressions. 

  • Environmental cues (visual boundaries, signs, labels) 

  • Pictures, Objects 

  • Written language  

  • Concrete tools to give information 



Everyone benefits: the teacher, the individual student, and the whole class. Imagine a classroom where communication is clearer, instruction is efficient and effective, and the social emotional atmosphere is calmer, positive, and supportive.  




  • Visuals provide information that doesn’t “disappear” like verbal or auditory information, (even sign language can be transient). 

  • Allows for time to process information and supports comprehension. 

  • Structures the environment, establishes expectations. 

  • Creates organizational tools. 

  • Increases participation and independence. 

  • Makes abstract concepts a bit concrete. 

  • Accommodates for challenges with language, attention, memory.  

  • Supports behavior – student learns how to behave. 

  • Visual schedules reduce anxiety; student knows what to expect. 

  • Helps with current activity and next activity; transitions (shift attention to next activity). What is going to happen, when it is going to happen, what is the sequence of events, what do students need, where he/she is going, what are the choices, what is changing, who is coming, how long will an activity last, when he/she gets a breakwhen is the preferred activity. 

  • Makes time visual and concrete 

  • Supports short attention span (how long, how many more?) 

  • Reduces anxiety, provides predictability  



Visuals are tools to 

  • Organize and structure the environment 

  • Establish expectations, rules, routines 

  • Provide directions, explicit instructions 

  • Facilitate communication, social interaction 

  • Adapt curriculum 

  • Modify assignments (highlight, underline, arrows) 

  • Support comprehension  

  • Support communication  

  • Give information on who what when why how 


Examples – Types of Visual Strategies         


  • Calendars 

  • Schedules- classroom and individual  

  • Timelines 

  • Classroom/individual rules & routines 

  • School planner  

  • Task Organizers  

  • Clocks, timers 

  • Organizational systems 

  • Work Systems 

  • First, Then  

  • Graphic organizers 

  • Checklists  

  • Task analysis tool to teach a skill or routine 

  • Step-by-step instructions 

  • Social stories 

  • Tools to teach and support behavior  

  • Token board 

  • Choice board 

  • Videos to teach social, communication, behavior  

  • Conversation tools 

  • Scripts  

  • Comic strip conversations  


Visuals support learning, language, communication, and behavior in an inclusive environment. It increases independence and participation. Think visual when teaching. Explore the resources listed below. Incorporating visual strategies in your teaching will become a natural part of your repertoire. It benefits all. 




  1.  Virginia Commonwealth University  = How to Videos 

How to: Visual Supports 

 Video:  6:33 


  1. You can find the whole How To videos here:  


  1. Autism Focused Intervention Resources and Modules. Training modules for evidence-based practices: 


  1. Visual Schedules: Do2Learn is overall a great resource. 


      5.   Resource for visual supports to search and print out:  

BOOKS (some links are to, used books at a reduced price) 

Everyday Education: Visual Support for Children with Autism by Pernille Dyrbjerg & Maria Vedel, 2007.  

Visual Strategies for Improving Communication by Linda A. Hodgdon, 2011. 


Colleen N. Fay, M.S.

Autism/Behavior Consultant

Montana Autism Education Project