Using Visuals Effectively and Purposefully

Level 1: Receptive Language Skills

When you walk into an autism classroom, the first thing you may notice are visuals. That funky little conehead Boardmaker man is probably the first thing to smack you in the face. If you are new to the autism world you might wonder why someone would spend so many ink cartridges to print all of these graphics. There is a very important reason why our walls are covered with brightly colored images. It’s all about helping our students understand their world!

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I often need to clarify this point when doing lessons about autism in general ed classrooms. Many kids (and adults) misunderstand our students. They think our kids can’t hear. Well, their ears work just fine. But sometimes, something happens in the connection between the ears and the brain. Many of our kids struggle to understand what we say to them. This issue with receptive language can cause major issues in our kids’ lives. They may not understand classroom directions or questions asked to them. Visuals are the key to untangling this mess. Think about if you would travel to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. What would you rely on:

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Think about your classroom as that foreign country and your students don’t speak the language. Set up visuals so your students can understand this environment.

How to Use Visuals Effectively and Purposely:

  • Put Visuals Where You Need Them

There is no point in some haphazardly placed visuals. You need to post the visuals where they are applicable! Also wearing visuals on a lanyard is super convenient – then you have them whenever you need them! Check out our Visuals for an Autism Classroom Packet and our Necklace Visuals for Children with Autism.

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  • Use Visuals to Label

Labeling areas of the room and different resources and items helps your student understand what goes where. Check out our Labels for an Autism Classroom.





  • Use Visuals to Show Schedules and Order of Events

Visuals help our students understand what activities they have next. Think of how important it is for us to know our schedule? When we verbally say to our students, you have math then gym then playtime then computer. That may go in one ear and out the other. Use visuals to show the order of events. Use visual schedules for the whole day and within each center or activity. Check out our Visual Schedules Set 1, Visuals Schedules Set 2, and Color Coded Visual Schedules. 



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  • Use Visuals for Everyday Routines

Visuals can help illustrate the steps of different activities and routines we expect our students to do on a daily basis. Activities such as class jobs, art, and household chores may need the extra help of visuals to show our students exactly what to do. Special activities likes field trips and class parties are also great times to use visuals. Check out our Classroom Jobs Set 1, Classroom Jobs Set 2, and Scrapbook Visual Craftivity.

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  • Use Visuals that are Age Appropriate.

Brightly color cone head men may not be age appropriate for high-schoolers or adults. Consider using real photos as visuals and keeping things age appropriate.


  • Teach the Visuals

Unfortunately you cannot slap up some visuals and be done with it. You have got to teach the visuals! Use them in situation. Show your students the visuals as your go through the motions and model what you want the student to do. It takes time and repetition. Be patient and keep at it!

This post is part of the Cooking Up Communication Summer Series!

Click here to learn more!

The Autism Helper


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