Visual Tools That Will Make Your Life Easier

Children with Autism are typically visual learners.  They learn by seeing and not necessarily by hearing. If you find yourself giving directions repeatedly, and your child or student is not complying, you may want to consider using visual tools.  Even if you think your child is familiar with his schedule, your classroom or house rules, and the steps involved in completing a task, providing him with visual tools sets him up for success.

Visual tools can be picture strips, written instructions if your child reads, or a combination of pictures and words. You can use them at home, in school, and in the community. You can make your own visual tools by cutting out pictures from magazines and newspapers, or you can take photos of your child while doing a task and use the pictures in a visual schedule.


Visual schedules reinforce structure and routine.  They help your child or student understand what is happening next in his day and assist in recalling past events. You can use photographs, symbols, and/or words, depending on the need. You can try breaking up the schedule into morning and afternoon routines.  Review the schedule with your child in the morning. Have him check off, or in some way visually remove each event as it is completed. This will minimize confusion, and help your child or student clearly know what to expect throughout his day.

1.    Home schedule

Include activities such as mealtimes, bathroom time, chores, outings, quiet time, and homework time. Try including sensory activities throughout his schedule also, especially before and after in-seat activities.

2.    School schedule

School routines usually stay the same.  However, it is still important for your student to have a school schedule to prepare him for changes (i.e. fire drills, special assemblies, playground cancelations because of inclement weather, etc).  Classroom schedules are also wonderful for assisting your student with transitions.

3.    Community schedule

You can minimize meltdowns in the community by showing your child or student photographs of places you are going.  Review the pictures with him before you leave the house or school, before you get out of the car or bus, and throughout your outings.  Be sure to place a photograph of your home or school at the end of the photo series to ensure that your child understands he will come back afterwards.

Task Strips

Post task strips at eye-level in convenient places that are visually accessible to your child or student. Review a task strip with him before an activity occurs. Verbalize each step while pointing to the pictures from left to right. After some time, stop saying the words and simply point to each picture to show him the next step. The task strip will then be the only reminder he needs to complete a task. The goal is for your child or student to complete different chores and tasks independently.

1. Bathroom task strip

Place the bathroom task strip above the toilet paper roll in the bathroom.  If you have a son, be sure to have two strips, one for standing and one for sitting.  Include pulling down pants and underwear, sitting down, wiping (from front to back for girls), flushing the toilet, and washing your hands.

2.    Washing hands task strip

Place this task strip above the sink in all bathrooms in your house or school.  You may even consider taking a washing hands task strip with you when out in the community to remind your child or student of the steps involved.  Include turning on the water, putting soap on your hands, rubbing your hands together and counting to 30, rinsing your hands, drying your hands, and turning off the tap.



Post rules in a convenient and visually accessible place for your child or student. Verbally review the rules before an activity occurs, pointing to the pictures from left to right.  Then review the rules again during the activity. After some time, you can stop saying the words and only point to each picture to remind your child or student what to do next.  Always present rules positively. You can describe what is not expected, but be sure to end the rule with what is expected.  For example, “Don’t hit others. NO! Keep your hands to yourself.”  Commend your child or student when he follows the rules. Point to the rule and say, “I love the way you are keeping your hands to yourself. Good job!”

Here are some rules that you can include in your daily routine:

1. House rules

Decide on your house rules, and place the rules throughout your home.  By visually posting the rules, you are reminding your child of your expectations. You are setting him up for success. You can include rules such as use a quiet voice, keep your hands to yourself, follow adults’ directions, say please and thank you, and use kind words.

2.    Car or Bus rules

Car rules can include keep your hands inside the car, wear your seatbelt, sit straight in your seat, and use a quiet voice.  Review the rules before you start the car.  While driving, if your child is following the rules, be sure to praise him. “I love the way you are keeping your seatbelt on.”

3.    Community rules

Community rules can include stay close, hold my hand, listen to me, use a quiet voice, and keep your hands to yourself.  Review the rules for different places before you leave your home or school, before you get out of the car or bus, and while you are in the new location. If your child is following the rules, be sure to lavish praise on him.

4.    Playtime rules

Playtime rules may vary for different places.  For example, when a child is playing at home the rules are different from when he is playing at the playground at school. Be sure to review the rules before playtime at any location. Playground rules can include wait your turn, go down the slide feet first, and stay close to Mom or the teacher.

5.    Work-time rules

You can use work-time rules with your child during homework time or in-seat activities.  Work rules can include sit in your seat (or sit on the ball, stand at table), use your quiet (or inside) voice, and look at your paper.


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Jennifer Lingle, M.Ed.

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  • Manju Bhargavi
    Posted at 07:38h, 19 February Reply

    yes visuals have been used at our early intervention center at India bangalore.
    visuals are of great help for parents and children also thank you for the timely updates

    • Jennifer Lingle
      Posted at 07:52h, 23 February Reply

      I am glad to hear that visuals are so helpful!

  • Crystal
    Posted at 09:02h, 07 March Reply

    Yes, we have an Afterschool schedule that is divided into work assignments ( usually folders). A work folder in itself is a visual schedule that allows him to be independent and reduces anxiety of the unknown. This way of course was graduated from the strip pic/PECS schedule you have wrote about. We did have schedules for every task…washing hands, eating, showers, dressing, and general transition between activities. My son still needs a little help transitioning. This was a good reminder to break down steps until they ate easily processed before moving forward. Also, it was a realization of how much he has learned. Thank you for posting!

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