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Wednesday 22 Nov 2017

Visual Supports: Tools for organization

We all use tools and strategies to stay organized. For example, the calendar on our cell phone can help you keep up with appointments. You might use a Post-it note to remind you of something you need to do when you get home from work. Children with autism can use organizational tools to manage their environment too. Organizational tools present the abstract concept of time in a concrete form and can help children organize their day. Examples of organizational tools might include:

• Calendars
• Checklists
• Schedules
• Visual scenes on communication devices

Let’s talk about each of these strategies individually.

Calendars present the abstract concept of time in a concrete form. Calendars can help a child with autism organize their lives and understand a sequence of events over a span of time. Information can be added to a calendar to help a child prepare for an upcoming event (e.g., birthday party) or a change in their monthly activities (e.g., a substitute teacher).

Checklists can help children ignore distractions and focus on the next purposeful action should be (Hodgdon, 1995). Checklist can redirect the child when they do become distracted and provide a sense of accomplishment.

A visual schedule communicates when events/activities will take place and what will come next in a clear, stable, concrete and uncluttered manner. This strategy can assist children in predicting and planning as well as keep them on the task at hand. Schedules might also help a child get through an undesired task because they can see a clear end point and a potential reward.

Visual scenes on communication devices
Visual scenes are images (either digital photographs or illustrations) that show people, objects and activities in relation to one another in a natural environment. Visual scenes set the topic for communication. They provide more information that an individual symbol, making it easier for the child to understand and organize the world around them. Visual scenes also help the communication partner understand the child’s other methods of communication e.g., speech, gestures) because the topic of conversation is well established.

Research supports the use of visual scenes in various capacities with children with autism. By providing access to visual strategies on AAC systems, the ways in which the child learns and communicates can be significantly and positively impacted (Shane, 2006).

For more information about how visual scenes can be used on a communication device, please visit

Article by: Stephanie Williams, MS CCC-SLP

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