Building Independence with Visual Supports
Let me start by declaring loudly, “I LOVE VISUAL SUPPORTS!” Not only for classroom use, but in my personal life as well. I would be lost without my calendar, “to-do” lists, and sticky notes! It greatly reduces my anxiety and increases my efficiency if I work within an organized environment and have visual references to fall back on through thousands of daily interruptions. Using visual supports in your classroom can work the same for your students - providing structure and tools to build their independence!
What are Visual Supports?
Visual supports are visual tools that assist an individual by providing a concrete representation of what is expected. Evidence has shown that visual supports influence outcomes for learners in the skill areas of social, communication, behavior, play, cognitive, school readiness, academic, motor and adaptive. They are so impactful, the Autism Circuit Academy 2.0 (2019-20) is covering this evidence-based practice intensely.
Visual Supports are effective if you know your learner, their environments and their activity expectations. In this post, you will get a basic overview and discuss how to get started in the visual support areas of boundaries, schedule and cues. If you would like an in-depth explanation of these, you can complete the free AFIRM module on the Evidence-Based Practice of Visual Supports (VS).
Visual boundaries are not the first thing that typically come to mind when thinking about visual supports; however, they play an important role by structuring an environment for a learner to be successful. For your students, create a highly organized environment that is clear about designating physical space and the expectations within that space.
How do you get started?
- Decide what type of activity will be required of the learner in each space.
- Place all materials needed to complete the activity within the space (your student should not have to run across the room to get materials do the task or find an adult to provide instructions for the activity).
- Reduce visual distractions by eliminating unnecessary objects and signage in a space (allows the learner to hone in on the important parts of the activity).
Visual schedules provide a concrete representation of a sequence of events. Visual schedules ease transitions and provide expectations for the learner. For your students, create a schedule or system of schedules that is user-focused. You will need to teach and support the learner in using the schedule. A single classroom may have multiple schedules for various students that all look completely different.
- How do you get started?
- Decide what the schedule will look like based on the needs of the learner.How will events be represented (objects, pictures, words, a combination of representations, etc.)?
- How many events will be represented (one, two, half-day, etc.)?
- How will the schedule be structured (top-down, left-to-right, stationary, portable, etc.)?
- Decide how the learner will use the schedule.
- Will the student access the schedule himself or herself, or will an adult bring it to the learner? Where will it be located?
- How will the student manipulate and transition through the schedule (carry pieces to the activity area, turn over cards, check off the list, use transition cues, etc.)?
Visual cues clarify information for the learner. They increase independence by providing key information in an organized, structured format the student can quickly reference. Also, visual cues can target a variety of skills and behaviors; as well as provide instructions, structure responses, and label environments. You will need to teach and support the learner in pairing meaning and expectations to the cues.
How do you get started?
- Define the target skills or behaviors you are trying to address.
- Decide on a visual representation that meets the needs of the learner.
What is your Visual Support Game Plan?
Visual supports vary greatly because they focus on the unique needs of each individual learner. Always structure visuals based on the student. You can find visual support examples on the Autism Circuit’s Tools page or check out their Pinterest page on visual supports. Need to see some in action? TSLAT’s Video Library has clips to demonstrate the use of visual supports. Remember to teach the visual, support the learner in using the visual, and then watch their independence grow!
C.Wong, S. Odem, K. Hume, A. Cox, A. Fettig, S. Kucharczyk, M. Brock, J. Plavnick, V. Fluery, & T. Schultz. (2014) Evidence-Based Practices for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. https://cidd.unc.edu/Registry/Research/Docs/31.pdf
Sam, A., & AFIRM Team. (2015). Visual supports. Chapel Hill, NC: National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder, FPG Child Development Center, University of North Carolina. http://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/visual-supports
*Shannon Beyer-Kaminski, M.Ed., is an Education Specialist in Special Education for Region 3 Education Service Center in Victoria, TX. Her roles include Autism Specialist (for TSLAT), Low-Incidence Disabilities Specialist (for Texas CAN), and Assistive Technology Specialist.
Prior to working at the service center, she taught early childhood general education, early childhood special education, and elementary special education. She then worked as an educational diagnostician, followed by serving as the Assistive Technology Specialist for her school district.