In weeks 3 and 4 of the new training series by parents for parents, the discussion focuses on using visual supports at home and in the community and how these tools can promote independence for a family’s loved one with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The following article provides a brief introduction to visual supports.
An evidence-based practice (EBP), visual supports use pictures, objects, and symbols in place of or paired with verbal communication to support the understanding of language. (An EBP combines research evidence, clinical expertise, and patient values to provide the most effective care available.)
The National Professional Development Center on ASD breaks visual supports into three categories:
Visual schedules provide information about events happening throughout the day. A visual schedule may use only two pictures, like a first-then board (for example, “First, wash hands. Then, eat”). Or the visual schedule may use pictures representing many activities (for example, a full day or more of activities). The length of each schedule and its format are based on the individual’s needs and may include objects, pictures, or simple text.
Using a visual schedule increases the individual’s understanding of expectations and prepares him or her for an upcoming transition.
Visual cues may include choice boards (graphic organizers with squares representing each activity). A choice board can be personalized with options an individual may select from, written directions paired with pictures or symbols, or labels used within the environment to show where items are stored.
Visual cues provide directions and information that increase the individual’s understanding of expectations within the environment.
Visual boundaries use furniture and other materials in the environment to help an individual learn where the boundaries are and what is expected within these boundaries.
For example, a sheet can be used to cover a computer when it is not available, a carpet can teach where to play with toys, or colored tape on a table can show the individual where food can be eaten.
In summary, visual supports are important tools for helping children and adults with ASD to navigate their daily lives and build independence.
Sun contributor Kellene Copeland is a Delaware Network for Autism (DNEA) coach at the University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies.
This text was edited for consistency of language and message and appears in the autumn 2019 issue of the Autism Delaware™ quarterly newsletter, The Sun.