Bring on the Visuals!

For an individual who thrives on order and routine, our world is a scary place! Humans interact at record breaking speeds; everything we do is high speed, instant and ever changing. Even our homes and classrooms tend to be quickly moving people from one activity to the next, changing schedules and living in the moment. It is a sign of our times and right or wrong, it is what it is. As non – autistic people we need our Blackberrys, our calendars, and our day planners to stay organized. Many of us could probably benefit from having a personal secretary! Individuals with autism need a way to cope with the demands of a fast paced society.

Schedules, lists, checklists and agendas are visual ways of organizing the world. Visual supports are the cornerstone of independence for an individual with autism. They tell an individual what needs to be done, when and what is coming next. Visuals provide order to a disorderly environment without the need for continual directions. It is not wise to fade out visual schedules because these are the tools that an individual will use for the rest of his/her life in order to be more independent. Students can be taught how to make and use daily visuals in order to bring order to their day and reduce anxiety.

Visuals can vary from written words to pictures, photos, objects and product samples to a combination of supports. The following are a sample of some useful visual supports:

? A daily schedule that lists events/things to do/activities/changes in schedule

? A key ring with visual reminders of social rules (Personal space, staring, waiting in line etc…)

? Checklists of tasks to complete and a place to indicate when are tasks completed

? Checklists outlining the sequence of steps to complete a task (Washing dishes, laundry, bathing, using appliances etc…)

? Checklists of materials needed (Packing a swim bag, packing a lunch, packing homework or materials for a class)

? A pocket size relaxation booklet

? Labels to indicate location and sequence (Drawers for clothing, hygiene materials, cupboards etc…)

? Graphic organizers or templates that outline what information is needed and where it should be recorded

? Semantic maps (These “thoughts webs” help students gather information and see the relationships between parts that otherwise may seem unrelated because of the learning style of students with autism)

? Cue cards (Reminders about how to solve a problem, recall a rule, make a transition etc…)

? Calendars

? Power cards that outline the way that a favorite character would handle a situation (The card demonstrates effective ways for the individual with autism to act or respond)

? Social Stories(TM) as developed by Carol (A specific strategy that involves a written story with pictures which describes a social situation. These stories make the unknown known for student with autism)

We would never expect a person that requires a wheelchair to "fade" their use of it! A wheelchair gives an individual independence and freedom. Visual supports do the same thing for an individual with autism. We need to do everything we can to improve the quality of life and develop the potential of every person with autism.

Copyright©2007 Jennifer Krumins – All Rights Reserved

Author's Bio: 

Jennifer Krumins is a full time teacher in Ontario, Canada with 19 years of experience in special education and the regular classroom. A mother of three (one of which has autism) she is currently teaching severely challenged teen boys and girls with autism. She is the author of two books:

Been There. Done That. Finally Getting it Right. A Guide to Educational Planning for Students with Autism: Lessons from a Mother and Teacher.


One Step at a Time: ABA and Autism in the Classroom; Practical Strategies for Implementing Applied Behaviour Analysis for Student with Autism

Please feel free to visit Jennifer’s website at or email her at