Thursday, August 4, 2011

Educational Planning For a Student With Autism - Bring on the Visuals!

For an individual who thrives on order and routine, our world is a scary place! Humans interact at record breaking speeds; everything we do is high speed, instant and ever changing. Even our homes and classrooms tend to be quickly moving people from one activity to the next, changing schedules and living in the moment. It is a sign of our times and right or wrong, it is what it is. As non - autistic people we need our Blackberrys, our calendars, and our day planners to stay organized. Many of us could probably benefit from having a personal secretary! Individuals with autism need a way to cope with the demands of a fast paced society.

Schedules, lists, checklists and agendas are visual ways of organizing the world. Visual supports are the cornerstone of independence for an individual with autism. They tell an individual what needs to be done, when and what is coming next. Visuals provide order to a disorderly environment without the need for continual directions. It is not wise to fade out visual schedules because these are the tools that an individual will use for the rest of his/her life in order to be more independent. Students can be taught how to make and use daily visuals in order to bring order to their day and reduce anxiety.

Visuals can vary from written words to pictures, photos, objects and product samples to a combination of supports. The following are a sample of some useful visual supports:

A daily schedule that lists events/things to do/activities/changes in schedule

A key ring with visual reminders of social rules (personal space, staring, waiting in line etc...)

Checklists of tasks to complete and a place to indicate when are tasks completed

Checklists outlining the sequence of steps to complete a task (washing dishes, laundry, bathing, using appliances etc...)

Checklists of materials needed (packing a swim bag, packing a lunch, packing homework or materials for a class)

A pocket size relaxation booklet

Labels to indicate location and sequence (drawers for clothing, hygiene materials, cupboards etc...)

Graphic organizers or templates that outline what information is needed and where it should be recorded

Semantic maps (these "thoughts webs" help students gather information and see the relationships
between parts that otherwise may seem unrelated because of the learning style of students with autism)

Cue cards (Reminders about how to solve a problem, recall a rule, make a transition etc...)


Power cards that outline the way that a favorite character would handle a situation (the card demonstrates effective ways for the individual with autism to act or respond)

Social Stories(TM) as developed by Carol (A specific strategy that involves a written story with pictures which describes a social situation. These stories make the unknown known for student with autism)

We wouldn't consider expecting a wheelchair bound person to "fade" the use of their wheelchair; it provides an opportunity for freedom and increased independence. Visual supports offer the same benefit to individuals with autism. It is only fair to give an individual all the tools that they need to live a life that is fulfilling and enjoyable!

Jennifer Krumins is a full time teacher in Ontario, Canada with 19 years of experience in special education and the regular classroom. A mother of three (one of which has autism), she is currently teaching severely challenged teenagers with autism. She is the author of two books:

Been There. Done That. Finally Getting it Right. A Guide to Educational Planning for Students with Autism: Lessons from a Mother and Teacher.


One Step at a Time: ABA and Autism in the Classroom; Practical Strategies for Implementing Applied Behaviour Analysis for Student with Autism

Please feel free to visit Jennifer's website at or email her at

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