What are visual supports and visual schedules?
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 and visual schedules for?
This approach is for autistic children, but many other children can benefit from visual supports and visual schedules too. This includes children with developmental delay or children who are learning another language.
What are visual supports and visual schedules used for?
Visual supports and visual schedules are used to help autistic children improve their skills in:
- processing information
- understanding and using language
- understanding and interacting with their physical and social environments.
Visual supports 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 and visual schedules 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 and visual schedules for autistic children?
Autistic children can have trouble paying attention to and understanding the information they hear. Visual supports and visual schedules give children visual information that they can look at as often 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. It can also help with behaviour like severe distress and repetitive questioning.
What do visual supports and visual schedules involve?
Visual supports and visual schedules use objects, drawings or pictures on electronic devices to represent each step of a routine or activity. These are placed in order to show the whole routine or activity.
The child is taught to use the visual support, checking and finishing one step at a time. The aim is to gradually phase out adult help until the child can follow the steps independently.
Do visual supports and visual schedules help autistic children?
Studies have shown positive outcomes, particularly in helping children follow directions and cope with switching from one activity to another. Visual supports and visual schedules are useful as part of broader therapies or programs focusing on children’s development and education.
Who practises this method?
Anyone can make visual supports and 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 supports 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.
Where can you find a practitioner?
To find practitioners, go to:
- Australian Psychological Society – Find a psychologist
- Occupational Therapy Australia – Find an occupational therapist
- Speech Pathology Australia – Find a speech pathologist.
You can talk about this technique with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk about it with your NDIA planner, early childhood partner or local area coordinator (LAC), if you have one.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
You can be involved in constructing visual supports and visual schedules for your child and using these supports at home or in the community.
You might need to pay a fee if you consult a professional like a psychologist, speech pathologist or occupational therapist for help with designing visual supports and putting them into action.
The costs of visits to these professionals might be covered for up to 20 sessions by Medicare, depending on whether the professional is a registered Medicare provider. Some private health funds might cover some of the consultation fee. This can be claimed immediately if the provider has HICAPS.
You might also need to pay for materials to make the supports, or you can buy them ready made.
After these initial costs, the ongoing cost of this approach is low.
Therapies and supports for autistic children range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medicines and alternative therapies. When you understand the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.