Seven Steps for Setting up a Stellar Autism Classroom: Visuals

Categories: Behavior | Resources | Visuals

Seven Steps for Setting up a Stellar Autism Room

… or how to incorporate these steps into your general ed room

1. Organization and Planning

2. Classroom Structure

3. Schedules

4. Visuals

5. Data

6. Work Tasks, Academic Work, and IEP Goals

7. Communication



Children with autism struggle with expressive and receptive language abilities. Visuals are an essential tool to help students with autism understand their environment and express their wants and needs. Visuals could be used in a special education classroom or in a general education classroom where students are included. This is a simple and great way to incorporate the needs of your students with autism into your general education classroom! It may benefit some of your other students as well!

  • Label each area of the classroom:
  • Post visuals near doorway that students may need. I also post this fire drill social story near the doorway so I can grab it as I leave for a fire drill in case my students need it. Also keep a time out visual near the doorway if you use an “out of room” time out for any students. 
  • Post other important visuals around room or keep a folder of all visuals you need in a central location. Use visuals for those more “subtle” or embedded rules. Most students should “know” that they need to stand and wait by the door but they may need an additional visual cue. 
  • Label areas of room with additional visuals. Keep visuals for frequently used verbal commands near the places you use them – clean up visual near the play area. Other center specific visuals may include visuals for “I want help” and “I want headphones” kept near the computer. 
  • Label art supplies, office supplies, and toy bins with a visual cue. That way your students can clean up, they know where everything is located, and it increases the predictability of your class environment. Also since many special ed rooms have many adults coming in and out (speech therapists, OTs, PTs, aides, social workers, etc.) labeling everything is helpful for the adults too!
  • OCD hint: Pick the same font and put all of your labels in the same font! Your room will look so much better!
  • Other than these types of visuals keep the rest of your room fairly clean and uncluttered. Only post visuals you actually use! Too many posters, bulletin boards, reminder charts, and artwork can be distracting and overwhelming for children with autism.
  • Keep one bulletin board for all classroom business and label it! I post my staff schedule, students schedule, inclusion schedule, monthly lunch calendar, monthly classroom calendar, and class newsletter. Whenever other adults are in your room they know what’s going on and then you have access to everything whenever you need it as well! Even in June, I for the life of me could not tell you what day and time 6th music inclusion was at!
  • Another great way to use visuals especially for the general ed setting is keep a set of small visuals on a necklace. That way you have access to the visuals you need all day even if you are going into different classrooms!
  • Mini Schedules: I couldn’t decide whether mini schedules went into schedules or visuals but either way: these are my fav! I use mini schedules at many different stations throughout my class and for independent time too! This would also be great for inclusion since you can make these pretty discrete and unobtrusive. Use just words for readers. Even simples ones help. Here are some examples:
  • Behavior visuals: You will want to set up several important visuals for behavior management. You will want to set up some type of reinforcer visual for some of your students. They can pick at item to work for from a visual choice board. Some students may not need this but student with lower verbal abilities will benefit from this intervention.
    • I use this time out visual all the time! It’s a great visual way to show ‘3 strikes.’ Get it here for free! Check out this post for other behavior management freebies!
    • Visual Necklace: I wear these visuals around my neck so I have easy access to them at all times! This is great for students with low receptive language who may not understand my verbal requests!

Visual shopping alerts!

Behavior Management Visuals

Set of over 40 Classroom Visuals 


  1. Thanks – love the Velcro placed on back. Great idea.

  2. Thanks- love the Velcro placed on back. Great idea.

  3. Thanks for these great ideas! I loved the necklace and student schedule ideas!

  4. is that kind of visual aids are effective in teaching?

  5. Yes! Hugely!

  6. I teach a self-contained multi-handicap classroom at our local high school. I try to use “real” pictures for visuals. Will these pecs work for high school students? My students are non-verbal and most in wheel chairs. I have been reading your blog for the last three days trying to decide if I would benefit from your material. My students are very low functioning. Any thoughts? Thank you so much and I love your blog!!!

  7. Dear me! Why the use of the word “bad”? Stating things in a positive way is so much more effective and doesn’t have a detrimental effect on self-esteem – I know many of my students hear the word “bad” at home way too often….

  8. This specific intervention was just one component of his Behavior Plan. Because that is the language used in the home often times – we really need to define what “good” and “bad” means so students can correlate their behaviors with these concepts. Often times it’s most effective to go with the words already in their repertoire – especially for kids (like this one) with limited verbal skills and extreme behaviors that effected his academic and functional development. You can always fade out these words once they are successful at reducing behavior. 🙂

  9. Make sure the visual necklace has a breakaway lanyard . Would not want one of the students to choke you out.

  10. Great point!

  11. Not a fan of so many “no” cards and the word bad with a devil face. Yikes.

  12. This write-up brought a wave of memories back to me. It’s been an year since my son has been studying at Rebecca preschool, where they took the initiative of helping us for incorporating these visual cues at home as well. Thanks for sharing such wonderful thoughts.

  13. Thanks for reading!

  14. I bought the pack of Positive Reinforcement Visuals on TPT, but I thought it would include the visual that says “I am working hard for…”. Could you add this to the pack? You have some wonderful examples, and I would love to know where to get the “I am working hard for…” visual.

  15. Sure Sandy! I think I just simplified the language by making it “I am working for.” Email me your receipt to and I can send that one over! 🙂

  16. Where and how can I purchase the visual pack(s)!
    Also, do you have High School Level Social Stories to include transition curricula or know where I might purchase>

  17. “Be bad” with a devil face?

    No thanks!! Always, always, always separate child from behaviour. The kid isn’t “bad” the behaviour is not expected or not appropriate. Call the behaviour bad without shaming the kid.

  18. Agreed! This post is 8 years old and that visual is probably 10+ years old and that is something important I have learned since then!

  19. I’ve used visual cards with my regular education classroom, and they are a very helpful form of nonverbal communication.

    • So great to hear! Thanks for reading 🙂

  20. I like having the visual necklace, had I had one several years ago things would been easier.


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