Whether you are using them as a visual schedule or to support a child in the classroom, you’re likely familiar with the benefits of visual supports for autistic children. These free printable resources for autistic children and their families are invaluable when it comes to the day-to-day.
What are Visual Supports and How Do You Use Them?
A visual support simply refers to using a picture or other item to communicate with a child who has difficulty understanding or using language.
Visual supports can be:
- Written words
When it comes to children on the autism spectrum, visual supports often serve one of two purposes:
- To help parents better communicate with their child
- To help the child better communicate with others
Visual supports can be used with any age and can be used by teachers, parents, or other caregivers as well.
Why are visual supports so important?
Well, to put it simply, visual supports help children with autism develop a functional communication system.
Often, children with autism have difficulties with:
- Social interaction
- Communication in social situations
Visual supports can help in both of those areas.
Additionally, children on the autism spectrum may find it difficult to understand and follow spoken instructions. They may also have difficulty with expressing their wants and desires to their parents or caregivers. Visual supports can help with both of those things as well.
Finally, visual supports help with maintaining and understanding routine and structure. And, if a child is in an unfamiliar situation or environment, having their visual supports can go a long way in finding structure and keeping control.
How to Use Visual Supports for Autistic Children at Home
One way to use visual supports is with a First-Then board.
A First-Then board is a visual display that shows something your child prefers that will happen after they complete a task that they don’t prefer. It is helpful for teaching new skills and following directions. This can be a great motivator to complete a task. First-Then boards also lay the foundation for multi-step directions, cause-effect, or work-reward concepts.
To reinforce the value of the First-Then board, you must give them the reinforcing item or activity after they complete the first task. Otherwise, they may not trust the concept and they will be more resistant to using this method. In a sense, the First-Then can be a reward style board as well.
Now, don’t expect for everything to go completely smooth. You will want to anticipate some challenging behaviors, especially because you are working on tasks or activities that your child does not want to do. That is why it is so important to reinforce with the desired item or activity after they complete that first task.
Examples of First-Then situations
- First say hi — Then play with bubbles
- First eat lunch — then play on playground
One of the other common or frequently used visual supports is a visual schedule system that is often created with PECS. You can set up a homemade PECS binder or you may want to ask your child’s speech therapist for recommendations.
In essence, a visual schedule is simply a visual representation of what will happen throughout the day.
A visual schedule is useful because:
- It may break down a task or activity
- Helps with decreasing anxiety around transitions
You can start simple with a visual schedule and build on that as your child becomes used to using it.
For our family, we developed our own system for home and had a different system for school. My daughter is very compartmentalized so she associates certain things with home (either mine or her father’s) and school. Her routine, for the most part, does stay the same.
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