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Autism – Using Visual Strategies and Schedules

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The use of visual strategies and schedules for individuals on the autism spectrum has been an invaluable tool for developing communication and helping with understanding. Many individuals on the autism spectrum learn and understand more easily when things are presented visually, whether it be an object, photo or line drawing. These options can be used with both children and adults on the autism spectrum.  These strategies are often simple and portable and can be used at home, in the classroom, or any other environment.


Visuals for autism

Single pictures or photos can be used to represent objects and actions. These pictures can be actual representations or symbols, and can be presented as reminders or to help explain a task. Alternatively a non-verbal individual can use them to communicate. The use of PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) is a good example of using pictures as a tool for communication. Fluent users of PECS can use several pictures to make easily understandable and grammatically correct sentences.


Visual schedules for Autism

These can be used to help explain a series of actions or a timetable. An example of a visual schedule would be a series of pictures on the bathroom wall which reminds the client/student to – flush the toilet, wash their hands, use soap, and dry their hands. Another example could be a series of pictures that give a timetable for a student’s day in the classroom. The student can see what it is happening next and he can take down each picture as he finishes each task, monitoring his own progress.

Visual schedules can be used to:

  • Reduce anxiety – because the individual is aware of their routine.
  • Motivate – the child can see a reward on their schedule if they finish their work.
  • Manage behaviour – certain favourable activities are visually scheduled at certain times of the day. This teaches the student that they can do motivating activities, but only at certain times. This can help to avoid challenging behaviour.
  • Visual schedules can also be in calendar or checklist form to help warn the student of changes in the routine.
  • Visuals can also be used in the classroom to facilitate learning, help with tasks that are more abstract, and make activities more interesting.


Social stories for Autism

Social stories are easily produced, focus on real life situations and can be used repeatedly, as, and when required. The stories can be written with visuals to help with understanding. They offer the child information on a particular social situation and focus on who is performing certain actions, why they are performing those actions and behaving in a certain way. Stories can provide time and place related information about when and where things might happen. The story can focus on particular areas of need such as social skills or communication, and can also provide the individual with socially appropriate responses. See the section on Social Stories.
For more information about autism and other communication difficulties, and ideas and strategies to help communication, see our Resources, or for specific fact-sheets with helpful hints about Autism go to the Autism Downloads section.

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