Visual Communication and Autism

It is widely known that people with ASD are visual learners and as a result, benefit from visual support in order to communicate.



The PECS communication programme is absolutely fantastic and has received worldwide recognition for its effectiveness amongst those with ASD. The training itself prepares the trainee on how to implement the programme and also how to manage challenges that may arise as a result of communication difficulties, for example, teaching how to ‘wait’.


Once you have invested in the training, all you need is symbol making software (communicate in print, matrix maker etc), a laminator, laminating pouches and velcro. A very small price to pay to teach someone to communicate! The key is to utilise every possible opportunity to teach communication techniques. If you are struggling on how to do this, have a look at this bubble chart of ideas…

Visual Communication throughout the day

From my experience of PECS, here are a few tips;

  • The programme has strict phases which need to be followed! As trainers, staff need to ensure they understand the phase they are teaching to allow the student to complete it appropriately.
  • Do not start the next phase until the student is confident to do so (this means completing the current phase with different motivators, staff, settings etc).
  • Never dismiss a potential motivator…in the past we have had punch pocket, potato and an empty water bottle to name a few!
  • A student is never ‘too young’ to communicate!
  • Remember there is a difference between PECS and visual schedules! PECS refers to the 6 phase communication programme.
  • Elements of PECS can be used in lots of activities, for example, ‘error correction’ is great to convey to correct answer in subjects, e.g ‘where is the big square?’

Thank you Carol Gray for Social Stories!


Social stories are a great way of helping a person with ASD understand what is going to happen in a given situation, how they may feel during this time, and what actions they can take to end the experience positively. A young person may exceed our expectations with how well they cope with one situation and then surprise us with how they may find other situations particularly difficult. It may be helpful to have a ‘stash’ of social stories to edit and print when difficulties arise or to prepare for a situations that may cause anxiety.

A few points to remember;

  • Social stories should have an introduction, middle and positive ending. The ‘story’ should be accompanied by appropriate photos or pictures.
  • Questions should be answered; What will happen? How will I feel? When will it happen? Why does it happen?
  • The social story should appeal directly to the individual. Where possible, use interests and information that the young person can relate to. The cognitive ability of the child should be reflected in how and what is written in the social story – do not use complicated or too much language for a small child who wouldn’t understand. Similarly, the social story could be turned into a magazine article or comic strip for those older, more able students. There are also some new social story apps available for iPad.
  • Consider if the text should be written in the first or third person, depending on the age and ability of the young person.
  • The social story needs to be written to encourage appropriate behaviour, and therefore expected actions need to be outlined.
  • Role play can accompany the story to help the individual to understand the situation.

Examples of social stories;

  • Moving to a new school
  • A new baby in the family
  • Toilet training
  • Shopping in the community
  • A new member of staff in the classroom
  • How to follow the school rules

And many many more!

Please see the ‘Social Stories’ section for a few examples to download and edit.

Autism teaching…top tips!

Ok, here goes…my first ever blog post! I’ve had a think about what I should write and I thought ‘top tips’ would be a good place to start. Mainly because when I started out as a NQT it used to take me a good 2 hours to plan a 45 minute lesson, which half the time I didn’t even get through! So, maybe with a few little tips (which most of the time I am sure are just common sense) I can pass on a little bit of what got me through!


If ever there was an essential piece of advice for teaching young people with Autism I would say consistency is it! If you put in place a behaviour rule, staff rota, timetable etc make sure you are CONSISTENT! Especially when it comes to behaviour plans…if you say ‘no computer’ until a workstation task is finished, you have to stick to it…believe me, I have made this mistake and paid the consequences! Make sure all your staff are singing from the same hymn sheet so if a student works with a one person on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and somebody different on a Thursday and Friday you have to ensure they follow the same consistent handling plan!

To help with this top tip, document all consistent areas of the classroom and remind staff and students of the rules on a regular basis.

If ambition is the path to success, persistence is the vehicle you arrive in!

Following on from consistency, if you decide to try something new in your classroom make sure you persist to give it a fair try. I was always told ‘it takes 3 weeks to change a behaviour’ and I strongly stand by this. You may implement a new lesson which goes absolutely disastrously on the first attempt – but don’t give up! It may be you need to either keep trying to get staff and students to understand what is expected, or, maybe by making a few very small ammendments you may make it work! I will give you an example…my first attempt at a pizza lesson with an extremely lively and fussy group of autistic students did not go as planned! 1 student didn’t make it into the room, 1 ate all of the ingredients that had been placed on the table as soon as he entered and 1 sat on the floor twiddling his hair the entire lesson. As a team, we pereservered and made it to the end of the term with each and every student participating in pizza making (although not all ate it!)…at some point I’ll try to remember to upload the lesson plan!

Have high, but realistic, expectations

I absolute detest when people are excluded from activities because of their ASD. Admittedly, there are some tasks which a person with autism may find difficult, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be exposed to activities and situations as a result. I once heard about a mother who very lovingly avoided all public toilets because her autistic son could not deal with hand dryers, but surely the ideal situation would be to introduce him slowly over time to hand dryers or provide him with a coping mechanism when he hears them, such as ear defenders or a fiddle toy.  Please have high expectations for your students and build upon small steps to allow them to reach their potential. Maybe your student who is petrified of assembly won’t sit in there for an hour within the first term, but wouldn’t being able to sit in there for 10 minutes by the end of the year be a massive success?

Communication is key

If you are reading this blog and already have an interest in autism, it will be pretty obvious to you that communication is an area a person with ASD may struggle with. As a facilitator of education, it is essential we provide adequate communication opportunities. I’ll talk at a later date about my love of visual communication, but for now I just advise you inform your class what is happening in their day (a visual schedule is ideal for this), even if it is a last minute change of plan. Make sure your lessons are differentiated to apply to all communication levels.

I could write forever, but think I will stop there for now as feel I may start to waffle and repeat myself! Hope this makes some sense to you all.