A Teaching Strategy for Adults with Autism Called Visual Supports

Today a couple of Direct Support Professionals and I attended a free teaching strategy training for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders.


van drive to learn about a teaching strategy


This was hosted by a state university because it is part of the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education; one heck of a great, free resource for special education and human service professionals.


team learning about teaching strategy


At the beginning, the instructors explained the term evidenced based teaching strategy.


They the importance of only using a teaching strategy that is backed up with extensive research.


The class received a warning that, one day, we could encounter a situation where a parent, guardian, or even coworker might suggest a support for a person with autism that has no research based on beneficial outcomes.


learning a teaching strategy


The proper response to this is to explain how professionals must use an evidenced based teaching strategy. It is the law if an agency is receiving funding for Transition aged young adults with IDEIA and NCLB.




Let’s talk about visual supports for people with autism.


I am sure you heard that you cannot cure someone with autism. This is true.


Autism is a neurological occurrence where the brain develops differently. Some professionals say that it’s a disorder, while other professionals who embrace neurodiversity state otherwise.


If you see a person with autism, you see a person with autism.


Remember this!


Just like you and I, we each have our own strengths and weaknesses. Best practices say that we build upon those strengths.


People with autism may have needs in the areas of socialization and language. There is also repetitive behaviors and fixed interests.


Because people with autism have needs in language, we need to use other methods of teaching besides using words.


Enter the teaching strategy, visual supports.


Research shows that people with autism benefit from using visual supports…




…but don’t we all?


A person with autism might become overwhelmed and/or reliant on verbal directions which can lead to anxiety.


People with autism can be great visual learners, using visual supports as a teaching strategy can help them understand their environment, especially what you are trying to teach them.


So how do you make visual supports?


Here are options based on the person’s strengths and needs


Option 1: Use concrete objects


All you have to do is lay out objects that represent an event.


concrete visuals


The picture above (imagine being here in real life) can represent doing reading first, then making a phone call.


Option 2: Use actual images (see above!)


Almost the same as above, but you taking pictures to represent an event! Image you can do if the person is employed in the community and you provide some visual supports on how to do the job.


Now make one!


Option 3: Use picture symbols that represent something


walk             shower


(Walk to shower!)


Option 4: Use a written checklist (if the person understands words). Include pictures as needed.


__Exit transit

__Enter store

__Find Frozen Section

__Pick up frozen pizza

__Go to check out station

__Pay for item(s)

__Walk outside

__Wait for transit


Resources to Learn about the Teaching Strategy Called Visual Supports


Resource 1: Educating Students With Autism: A Quick Start Manual 1st Edition


I learned about this teaching strategy back when pursing my degree. The instructor recommended this book and it contains a lot of teaching strategies! When I really liked how it explains how to use visual supports as part of an extensive method of supporting people with autism called structured teaching. The image below shows a visual work system that I use with some of the people I work with.


Extensive Visual Support


The picture above show cases a mighty fine teaching strategy that has increased focus and decreased anxiety for people with autism


Resource 2: National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder 


This website is free and contains information (and research) for all of the 27 evidence based practices used to teach and support people with autism. This is a mighty fine reference for any professional.


Resource 3: Learning Language with Symbols Software A new multimedia program teaches the meaning of 1000 Boardmaker® symbol


This is a program to create picture symbols for people with autism. This is a great way to make supports for people with autism. Just laminate and place on Velcro (if you are creating a picture schedule for someone). Now our agency does have Boardmaker, however it is rather expensive.


Resource 4: SCLERA


This is a free website dedicated to help cut the costs of agencies that provide services to people with disabilities, including autism.  The creator knows that there is little money in the field of Human Services and wants to help out as much as possible. All the content on this site is licensed by creative commons, which means that you have to give credit if using.


*Some of the images used above are provide on behalf of SCLERA. Check out this site and implement this awesome teaching strategy for all people!


Are you using visual supports? What do you think of that teaching strategy?

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