Other common names: picture schedules, visual strategies, visual schedules
At a glance: Visual supports
Type of therapy
The claim
Helps children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) better understand the world
Suitable for
Children with autism
Research rating

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Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration

The time commitment for this therapy depends on the specific needs of the child.

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week

Costs vary depending on whether the visual supports have been purchased or homemade, and whether a professional has been consulted for help. After the initial outlay, there is very little ongoing cost.

What are visual supports?

Visual supports, visual strategies and visual cues are general terms for tools that present information using symbols, photographs, written words and objects.

One of the most common visual supports is a visual schedule. This is a set of pictures that show activities or steps in specific activities. For example, a visual schedule can show all the activities in a single day, or all the steps involved in a specific activity like eating a meal.

Who are visual supports for?

This approach is for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What are visual supports used for?

Visual supports and strategies are used to help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their skills in processing information, using language, and understanding and interacting with their physical and social environments.

Visual schedules can have many purposes. For example, you can use them to give a child a way to know what’s happening next, to signal a change to the normal routine, or to help a child do tasks without being told what to do by a grown-up.

Where do visual supports come from?

For many years, professionals working with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have used pictures and visual aids of various kinds to support children’s learning and communication.

What is the idea behind visual supports?

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can have trouble paying attention to and understanding the information they hear. ASD experts say that many people with ASD respond better to information that’s presented visually.

When children with ASD know what’s going to happen next, it can cut down on their feelings of anxiety, as well as other behaviour like severe tantrums and repetitive questioning.

What do visual supports involve?

Visual materials can be objects or drawings representing each step of a routine or each activity. These materials are placed in order to show a routine or activity.

The child is taught to use the visual schedule or other support, finishing one step at a time while checking the visual aids. The aim is to gradually phase out adult help until the child can follow the steps independently.

Cost considerations

You might need to pay a fee if you consult a professional like a psychologist, speech pathologist or occupational therapist for help with designing visual schedules and putting them into action.

The costs of visits to these professionals might be covered for up to 20 sessions by Medicare, depending on whether the professional is a registered Medicare provider. Some private health funds might cover some of the consultation fee. This can be claimed immediately if the provider has HICAPS.

You also need to pay for materials to make the schedules, or you need to buy ready-made schedules.

Do visual supports work?

Studies have shown positive outcomes, particularly in helping children cope with switching from one activity to another. Visual supports are useful as part of broader interventions focusing on children’s development and education.

Who practises this method?

Anyone can make visual schedules. The technique doesn’t need any training or qualifications. If you’re interested, you might find it helpful to talk with your child’s speech pathologist, occupational therapist or psychologist about visual schedules for your child’s particular needs.

If your child attends an early childhood intervention service or a specialist school, the staff there might also use visual schedules.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

You can be involved in constructing schedules for your child and using the schedules at home or in the community.

Where can you find a practitioner?

To find practitioners, go to:

You can talk about this technique with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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