john doe

Visual supports to foster independence – POPARD
Visual supports to foster independence

Visual supports to foster independence


This month’s Tip focuses on the benefit of visual supports for facilitating student independence.

Why use visual supports?

Typically, visual supports are put into place to support student understanding of transient auditory messages.

To understand auditory messages, the listener must:

  • Understand the level of language used to communicate the message,
  • Attend to the speaker at the time the message was communicated, and
  • Process and retain the message.

With visual supports, auditory messages remain fixed for as long as the listener needs, which enables the listener to refer back to the visual support as often as necessary. Additionally, visuals help highlight key points as they eliminate extraneous information often added to spoken messages. As such, visual help provide students with structure and clarity. They also increase predictability and reduce student anxiety when provided in advance of a particular activity.

Won’t students become dependent on visuals?

It is important to remember that we all use and rely on visual supports on a daily basis. Many of us keep calendars to keep track of social engagements or upcoming deadlines, or make checklists to prioritize what we will do in a day and ensure that nothing is forgotten. Using these visuals enables us to get our work done efficiently without having to spend time thinking about what to do next. In new environments, such as airports, we all rely on familiar signs and symbols to help us find our way and get to where we have to be on time. With visuals, we are able to navigate environments in which the language or procedures might feel overwhelming or confusing. For our students, we want to have visual supports available so they too can manage their own productivity and navigate their learning environments without adult directives. Over time, we want our students to learn how to set up these visual independently, which will require explicit teaching and practice.

Independence in Action

At first, the visual shown at the top of this page was shown to him by his mother, who modelled how to use it. He was taught how to set a timer for work and break times and directed to move the paper clip across the strip as he worked. Now, this student sits down at his desk, set his timers, and moves through 75 minutes of homework independently, occasionally stopping to ask for help with the work when needed. He no longer needs adult prompting or redirection to stay on task.

For more information on using visual supports, see the following eLearning videos:

Asperger Syndrome, Visually Supported Messages

Asperger Syndrome, Visual Supports