Comprehension Skills:
"Low" Tech Expressive Communication Skills:
"Low" Tech Social Skills:
"Low" Tech Attending skills:
"Low" Tech Academics:
Language Comprehension Skills:
"Mid" Tech Expressive Communication Skills:
"Mid" Tech Social Skills:
"Mid" Tech Attending skills (motivation):
Organization skills (story sequencing and time management):
"Mid" Tech Academics:
Video Taping:


Comprehension Skills:

Increasing comprehension of tasks/activities/situations is essential in addressing skill areas such as organization, attending, self help, following directions, following rules and modifying behavior. As a result, the child becomes more independent. The following "low" tech visual support strategies can be created and used to assist the child in increasing his comprehension skills and thus decreasing the occurrence of challenging behaviors:

"Visual Schedule"

Each child's individual needs should be considered in designing his personal visual schedule. It should be noted that visual schedules are as important for the child to use at school as at home. The information given to the child through a visual mode is extremely critical in helping him to understand the day's events and their sequence

"Object Schedule"

A visual schedule will give the child the following information:

  • What is currently happening;
  • What is coming up next (the sequence of events);
  • When they are "all done" with something;
  • Any changes that might occur.

A visual schedule is a "first-then" strategy, that is, "first you do ___, then you do ___", rather than an "if-then" approach (i.e., "if you do ___, then you can do___"). The "first" activity can be modified as needed to accommodate the child's changing ability to process in-coming information. Once this is done, then he can move on to his next visually scheduled task/activity. It is important for the child to indicate that he is "all done" with a scheduled activity. For example he can cross out/check off the scheduled item, or place the scheduled activity object/photo/Picture Communication Symbol (PCS) in an "all done" envelope.

Various social interactions can be included in the child's daily schedule as well as building in a balance of "high stress" (non-preferred) and "low stress"(preferred) activities. Each child's "break time" or "quiet time" can also be visually scheduled at various times throughout the day as needed.

Example. Showing completed work to a teacher for social interaction and reinforcement, or saying "hello" to the teacher and students when entering the classroom.

"Visual Schedule"

Mini schedules/routines can also be incorporated as needed into the child's day.

Example. A visual routine checklist titled "Before Kindergarten" was developed for a child who was having difficulty establishing a routine while waiting to go to kindergarten following lunch. As he did not readily comprehend what was expected of him during this time period, challenging behaviors typically occurred. The "routine" was laminated and posted on the refrigerator with magnets glued to the back. The child would then check off each completed routine activity (e.g., eat lunch; wash face and hands; brush teeth; read 2 books; put on shoes and socks; put on coat and back pack; wait by the door for the bus).

"Activity Schedule"

Independently engaging in appropriate tasks/activities for a certain period of time is an important life skill for children with autism. An activity schedule teaches this skill through a set of pictures (photo or PCS) or written words, which are used to visually cue the child to engage in a sequence of activities for independent recreation/leisure time (19). The number of activities and sequence of steps per activity need to be individualized for each child. For some children, activities will need to be broken down and depicted step-by-step in order for the child to complete the activity independently. For other children a more general, single photo/PCS/written word can be used to cue the child to perform an entire task or activity. Any type of binder, photo album, etc., can be used as the child's activity schedule book, or simple written lists may suffice for the child who is able to read and comprehend. The activity schedule book should contain the various tasks/activities (and steps if needed) depicted in whatever visual representation system the child best comprehends (e.g., photos, line drawings, etc.). Upon completion, a social reinforcer can be "built in" as the last page in the activity schedule book.

Example 1: On the first page of a photo album a photograph of a puzzle is depicted. On the next page, a photo of a shape sorter is depicted. On the third page, there is a photo of the child being thrown up in the air by Daddy.

Example 2: A written list with the following items listed, to be checked/crossed off by the child: Unload dishwasher; Vacuum living room; Fold towels; Computer for 30 minutes.

Use of a weekly/monthly calendar at both home and school can provide the child with important information regarding up-coming events/activities, rather than relying on auditory information. When the child asks when a particular event will occur, he can easily be referred to the visual calendar. For example, class field trips, "bath night", McDonald's, etc.

Use of a visual calendar can also be helpful in assisting the child to understand when regularly scheduled events may not occur.

Example: If the child has swim lessons every Friday after school, but this Friday the pool is closed, draw an international "no" - circle with a slashed line through it on the scheduled swim lesson.

"Visual Calendar"

In this example, acknowledgement is made that the child has a scheduled activity that is not occurring on a particular day.

Calendars can also be used to give the child important information regarding school attendance, which is particularly helpful for "days off" from school during the typical school week. A visually depicted monthly calendar is used with each day that the child will be at home or at school . Many parents put these monthly calendars on the refrigerator and reference them daily with their child by crossing off a completed day, and noting where the child will be going (or staying) tomorrow.

In addition to schedules, comprehension skills can be increased by the following strategies:

Use of the international "no" symbol (red circle with a line drawn through it) has proven very effective in visually communicating the very abstract concept of "no" for children with autism.

Use of the international "no" symbol can assist the child in visually comprehending the following:

"Stop - don't do what you are doing":
Example: For behavior management cards such as the Picture Communication Symbol (PCS) of "no hitting" with an international "no" over it.

"That is not a choice right now":
Example: If the child hands you a Picture Communication Symbol (PCS) of something that he wants, that is not an option at this time, use a red dry erase marker to place an international "no" on the PCS and say "no_____, not now".

"You are not permitted":
Example: Placement of a tag board-size international "no" on doors has stopped children from running out of the door.

Example: Placement of the international "no" on a scheduled activity to acknowledge that, although the activity typically occurs at this time/day, it will not be occurring today - for whatever reason.