education special education special needs Teaching

Using Visual Supports

Visual supports for Autistic children are vital those with receptive or expressive language delays are often able to process visual information more effectively.

As with anything in SEND education there is no one size fits all approach. There is a solid research base for this and in my experience they are well worth the effort to create, adapt, modify and use. They are there as a support tool. If your child is not responding well to them after a couple of months don’t force the issue, try something else.

There are many examples of these online, generally they fall into these categories. I would love to hear your success stories in the comments.

Visual Schedules

To structure a period of time, minutes, hours or even days. Can also be used as prompts or cues to support transition. Here is a quick simple Home Schedule

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Autism Visual support day .jpg

Environmental labels

To enable child to make sense of surroundings. We use for independence – accessible labels for places within the learning area (Food items, scissors, games etc). As well as a constant reminder of key information.

Autism Visual support food choice.jpg

Task specific (a process to complete)

To outline our expectations of how a task is completed – Sometimes a child will find a better or different way, do not be inflexible here.

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Scripts or Social Stories

An outline of the specific steps that will occur when trying something unfamiliar or changes to routine. There is a real skill to this! We use transition stories when changing classes each year – who will be in class etc.


To support interactions

Many systems like PECS, Proloqou2go use the same visual approach to functional expressive language use. This can be a whole communication book or a task/game/lesson specific board.

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Do not expect a visual to be an immediate answer, like anything children need to be taught how to use them.These tips may help.

  • Decide what you are using them for – structure day or immediate task.
  • Start simple. The level of complexity can be increased over time.
  • Immediate wants or needs addressed first.
  • Introduce when child is calm and ready to learn
  • Reinforce all the time.
  • Be consistent – Choose symbols or photographs but use same for everything.
  • Use them yourself to model expectations.
  • Design them to be interesting and motivating if you can.
  • Using Visual Supports Autism blog.jpg


Meaden, H. et al. (2011) Using Visual Supports With Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. TEACHING Exceptional Children, Vol. 43, No. 6, pp. 28–35.

Lynn McCann. Online. Reachout ASC resources.



  1. Great ideas here, also short social stories help with ‘change’ . I use sequence sliders for more regular routines for students. This helps with tasks and to make them more independent.

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