What would you do if all the visual supports were removed from your life? No road signs, no calendars, no clocks, no store signs, no boy/girl bathroom signs, no labels ... what would you do? How do you look at the world? Many children with ASD view the world with their eyes just like you and I do. Many children with ASD are also visual learners just like you and I are. Many people in the professional community feel that 95% of children with ASD are considered to be visual learners. It is also recognized with this group that the auditory channel is the weakest learning channel. To bring the point home, can you imagine if 95% of what you taught them was auditory and minimal visuals were used — how much information do you think the child would learn? How much information would you learn?
What does that mean for parents and professionals? It means that the old adage "show me and I'll understand" is particularly relevant when living with and teaching children with ASD. Visual strategies and environmental supports take auditory information or inherent expectations and place them into a visual picture for the child to understand. There are many different types of visual and environmental supports that are considered effective. These include, but are not limited to, visual schedules, calendars, task organizers, and visual based management systems. They can also include visually-based environmental supports such as labeling the environment, creating boundary settings and using color coding. The most important concept to remember when incorporating visuals into the home and school settings is to actually teach the child how to use them. For instance, a child can be in a room that is organized through color coding, taped boundary settings, and that uses a visual schedule as well as task organizers but if a child doesn't know what any of this means, it's all pointless.
When creating visual supports, identify activities or times of the day when the child experiences discomfort or you see more behavioral problems. These are the first areas in which you should consider teaching visual strategies and environmental supports. You can embed multiple strategies in the environment however you should limit the number of strategies that you are directly teaching. Select 1 or 2 of the visuals and place a heavy emphasis on these until the child appears to understand. How do you know if the child understands? You can always risk removing it from the environment to see what happens; however, we don't recommend you doing that. Instead monitor the child's behavior as well as the child's comfort within the environment. These two things should be clear indicators.
When creating visual and environmental supports it is important to consider how often and for what length of time the child will be using the strategy. Creating visual strategies can be time consuming. If the child needs the strategy for one event or for when something unanticipated occurs in a day, it may not be necessary to open the computer and to print and laminate the final product. For this child a hand drawn support or hand written schedule might work just as well. However, if you've identified a support that the child will use on a daily basis, it is important to invest the time and energy in creating a visual strategy that will be durable, meaningful and effective. Remember, any visual that you create for a child belongs to that child. It needs to move with that child when they leave your classroom.
Furthermore, we recommend making more than one copy of any visual that you make as items get lost, etc.