Why should we use Visual Support System?

Many children with ASD, ADHD, SPD respond positively to schedule charts, sign posters, and other visual strategies. This form of information presentation encourages them to communicate appropriately and helps to develop language and process information. Thus, it helps them to be more independent and self-confident to verbalise or make other understand their own feelings.

Visual strategies can be purposeful for expressing and understanding feelings and emotions, while going through transitions or changes, visiting a new place or meeting a new person.

A visual schedule is a representation of what is going to happen throughout the day or within a task or activity. It helps in carrying out life skills activities or task in hand in a planned manner and reduces high levels of anxiety 

It encourages structure and organisation in daily routine.

It can be in form of timetables, behavioural sheets, safety charts, activity sequencing for self-care skills (example-tooth brushing) or independent living skills (driving, sex education), emotion’s chart, social skills, instructions or reminders.

Marlene J. Cohen and Donna Sloan are authors of book Visual Supports for People with Autism: A Guide for Parents and Professionals (2007) which highlights the significance of visual support strategies for children and adults with autism.

Children with ASD often display anxious behaviours or act out when their routines change or they are in unfamiliar situations. Visual reminders can support them understand what to expect and what will happen next to reduce the anxiety. They help them to pay attention to details and understand situation visually in a better manner.

One of the main problems of people having ASD is social interaction, using language and repetitive behaviours. They have difficulties understanding instructions and display limited interests in activities. A visual support system helps in countless areas helping the child to work systematically and rationally.

Finally, some children with ASD are anxious or act out when their routines change or they are in unfamiliar situations. Visuals can help them understand what to expect and will happen next and also reduce anxiety. Visuals can help them pay attention to important details and help them cope with change.

Often ASD children get anxious due to changes in routine, classroom schedule, while meeting new people, and in unfamiliar situations. Visual support strategies can help them understand what to expect and when will it happen. Rather than getting panicked, agitated, angry, and anxious these children can look into the picture cards, or visual charts and follow the plan.

Moreover, parents’ teachers can easily communicate with them using visual reminders. This decreases frustration and may help decrease problem behaviours that result from difficulty communicating. Visuals can promote appropriate, positive ways to communicate.

The visual schedule breaks down the activity into multiple steps so that child can understand, plan and execute the task easily and complete the task (e.g. life-skill, such as brushing, shoe lace tying) successfully with reduced anxiety levels. According to Zigmond et. al (1999), anxiety caused by any reasons can aggravate sensory defensiveness in children with sensory modulation difficulties. Therefore, to minimise the sensory issues, caused due to raised levels of anxiety and stress visual reminders can be a helpful tool to a great extent.

Furthermore, anxiety resulting due to lack of information or fear of unfounded apprehension results in concentration difficulties, restlessness, hyperactivity, distractibility as well as learning abilities.

The manifestation of anxiety has been found to be associated with complex brain structure, known as limbic system and components of the reticular system.
It is better to have a portable schedule such as on a clipboard or a   binder or it can be fixed to a permanent place such as child’s bedroom or washroom wall or refrigerator. 

Fundamentally, the schedule should be visible to a child frequently and easily so that he can access it before or while performing planned task. Initially, verbal cues such as “check your schedule” can be prompted if a child gets baffled to perform any task.

Resources for Using Visual Supports: 

Eckenrode, L., Fennell, P., & Hearsey, K. (2004). Tasks Galore for the Real World. Raleigh, NC: Tasks Galore. 


Autism Speaks (www.autismspeaks.org/)

National Autistic Society (http://www.autism.org.uk/)

Bernard-Opitz, V, and Häußler, A. (2011) Visual support for children with autism spectrum disorders: materials for visual learners. Shawnee Mission, Kansas: AAPC Publishing  Bondy, A. and Frost, L. (2011).

A picture’s worth: PECS and other visual communication strategies in autism. 2nd ed. Bethesda, Maryland: Woodbine House  Cohen, M.J. and Sloan, D. L. (2008) Visual supports for people with autism: a guide for parents and professionals. Bethesda, Maryland: Woodbine House