Visual supports can be very powerful tools to help increase independence and supporting understanding for your autistic students. Remember students with autism have communication deficits they cannot express themselves effectively. Language difficulties may make it difficult for these students to understand what is expected of them. They may be confused about what is happening. Visual supports can reduce problem behaviors and increase effective communication interactions for most students with autism.
A schedule is a key component of a visual support system. Visual schedules can be very powerful because they help an autistic student visualize their actions. It gives the student information about what will happen and when it will occur.
To create a daily schedule divide the day into segments for example, independent work time, small group instruction or circle time, recess, lunch, bathroom, art, speech therapy, or music. You can use photographs, drawings or written words for your schedule. Schedules can be created for the whole class or just for your student with autism. A schedule can be posted on the classroom wall, placed at a student's desk, or it can be portable: a student can carry it in his pocket or on a clip board.
Schedules help an autistic student prepare for the transition by allowing them to see the upcoming activity and understand the sequence of activities that will occur. Research has shown that consistently using schedules decreases transition time and melt downs.
Allowing the student with autism to assist in designating an activity as finished can help them prepare for a transition. If using a picture schedule have a finished pocket for the student to place the picture of the activity they completed in. Laminate schedules with a box next to each picture that the student can check off as complete. Write out the schedule and allow the child to cross each item off as it is completed.
Not only can you create a visual schedule for the day, but you can create a visual sequence of events for different activities in you class. For example at the art table, you can have a set of pictures or written rules with step by step directions for the project.
Choice boards: At times your student with autism will need to make a choice provide a choice board with a list of acceptable activities they can choose from. For example, if they finish their work early have a choice board with pictures or words of quiet activities they can work on until its time to move to the next activity.
Help your student with autism understand what appropriate behavior is by posting rules and images that illustrate positive behavior.
You can assist your student with autism in understanding the association of their surroundings by labeling of objects around the classroom. Photographs, line drawings, magazine pictures, and words can be placed around the classroom as visual tools to support communication.
Social stories provide an individual with accurate information about situations your student with autism may find difficult or confusing. They can be written for a specific situation for the individual child. The story should be short and the focus should be limited to one or two key points: the important social cues, the events and reactions the individual might expect to occur in the situation, the actions and reactions that might be expected of him, and why. The goal of a social story is for your student with autism to understand a situation, and hopefully suggest some appropriate responses for the situation in question. Here is a sample social story. When I am walking someplace I need to look everywhere in front of me. That's important for everyone's safety. If I don't look, I might step on something and break it. I might trip and hurt myself. I might bump into someone or something. I don't like breaking things or getting hurt so I'll always look where I'm going.
Posting an emotions chart in your classroom can help your student with autism to learn to label and express their emotions.
PECS and Sign Language can also be very powerful visual supports for your classroom as well.