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Visual Supports (VS)

A visual display that supports the learner engaging in a desired behavior or skills independent of additional prompts.

Evidence Based
Ages: Skip to Evidence

Steps for Implementation

Step 1. Identify the Target of Instruction

  1. Refer to Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) to identify the learner’s goals.
  2. Discuss goals with IFSP/IEP team members, including family and learner.
  3. Select and operationalize an observable and measurable goal as a target of instruction.

Step 2. Collect Baseline Data

  1. Collect baseline data appropriate for the targeted skill.
  2. Collect data on at least three occasions to establish an accurate baseline for the targeted skill.

Step 3. Identify and Select Visual System based on Learner’s Needs

  1. Identify support personnel in the school/program building.
  2. Identify available symbol systems.
  3. Ask learners and their families about preferred symbol systems.

Step 4. Teach How to Use Visual Supports to Others Who Support the Learner

Introduce the visual system to those who work with the learner at school and at home.

Step 5. Introduce the Learner to Visual System

  1. Explain or model for the learner how the system will work.
  2. Give the learner time to interact with the system while providing cues, feedback, and assistance.

Step 6. Provide Learner with Multiple Opportunities to Use the Visual System

Identify other opportunities at school and at home for the learner to use the visual system.

Step 7. Collect Data on Acquisition of Target Skill

  1. Collect data on the target skill in a format similar to baseline data collection.
  2. Use these data to make instructional decisions regarding the targeted skill or behavior.

Research and Outcomes

Research Summary

Age Range: 0-22

Skills: Social, communication, behavior, play, cognitive, school readiness, academic, motor, adaptive, vocational, joint attention

Settings: Home, school, community

Evidence Rating: Evidence Based

The information found in the Research Summary table is updated following a literature review of new research and these ages, skills, and settings reflects information from this review.

Outcomes Matrix

The Outcomes Matrix shows outcome areas by age for which this evidence based practice is effective
Age: 0-5 6-14 15-22
Academic/Pre-academic Yes Yes Yes
Challenging/Interfering Behavior Yes Yes
Cognitive Yes Yes
Communication Yes Yes
Joint Attention Yes Yes
Mental Health
Motor Yes Yes
Play Yes Yes Yes
School Readiness Yes Yes Yes
Social Yes Yes Yes
Vocational Yes Yes
More about Intervention Outcomes

Visual supports (VS) are concrete cues that provide information about an activity, routine, or expectation and/or support skill demonstration. Visual supports are often combined with other practices such as prompting and reinforcement, and they are also embedded in many more complex or packaged interventions. Some examples of common visual supports are visual schedules, activity schedules, work systems, graphic organizers, visual cues, and scripts (Steinbrenner, et al., 2020).

In the most recent literature review conducted in 2020 by the National Clearinghouse for Autism Evidence and Practice (NCAEP), efforts were made to combine and/or expand EBP categories that shared similar features. Scripting, which was listed as its own evidence-based practice in previous literature reviews, moved into Visual Supports.