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What are visual supports?


Visual supports, visual strategies and visual cues are general terms for tools that present information using symbols, photographs, written words and objects.
One of the most common visual supports is a visual schedule, sometimes called a picture schedule. This is a set of pictures that show activities or steps in specific activities. For example, a visual schedule can show all the activities in a single day, or all the steps involved in a specific activity like eating a meal.


Who are visual supports for?

This approach is for autistic children, but many other children can benefit from visual supports too. This includes children with developmental delay or children who are learning another language.


What are visual supports used for?

Visual supports and strategies are used to help autistic children improve their skills in processing information, understanding and using language, and understanding and interacting with their physical and social environments.
Visual schedules can have many purposes. For example, you can use them to help children know what’s happening next, to signal a change to the normal routine, or to help children do tasks without adults telling them what to do.


Where do visual supports come from?

For many years, professionals working with autistic children have used pictures and visual aids of various kinds to support children’s learning and communication.


What is the idea behind visual supports for autistic children?

Autistic children can have trouble paying attention to and understanding the information they hear. Visual supports give children visual information that they can look at as many times as they need to.

When autistic children know what’s expected of them, or what’s going to happen next, it can reduce their feelings of anxiety, as well as help with behavior like severe tantrums and repetitive questioning.


What do visual supports involve?

Visual materials can be objects, drawings or pictures on electronic devices. These represent each step of a routine or each activity. These materials are placed in order to show a routine or activity.
The child is taught to use the visual schedule or other support, finishing one step at a time while checking the visual aids. The aim is to gradually phase out adult help until the child can follow the steps independently.


Do visual supports work?

Studies have shown positive outcomes, particularly in helping children follow directions and cope with switching from one activity to another. Visual supports are useful as part of broader therapies or programs focusing on children’s development and education.


Who practices this method?

Anyone can make visual schedules. The technique doesn’t need any training or qualifications. If you’re interested, it might help to talk with your child’s speech pathologist, occupational therapist or psychologist about visual schedules for your child’s particular needs.
If your child attends an early childhood intervention service or a specialist school, the staff there might also use visual schedules.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

You can be involved in constructing schedules for your child and using the schedules at home or in the community.

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