Visual Cues

Peer Review Analysis:

Visual Cueing for Students with Autism

James W. Becker


Seattle Pacific University

May 1, 2011

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) display a variety of challenges, but their ability to interact and communicate with parents, teachers, and other children can be one of the most frustrating for the child (Norbohm, 2005). Visual cues can be a valuable tool for students with ASD to communicate with people, and they can be a variety of things, such as pictures, objects, writing, body movement, and environmental cues. A majority of students with ASD are visual learners, which makes visual cues effective because, “Visuals cues are physical representations of content with concrete characteristics that can enhance comprehension” (Miranda & Erikson, 2000; Smith, Myles, & Adreon, 2001, as cited in Hart & Whalon, 2008, p. 118). Many visual cues (fig. 1 & 2) have words with them for reinforcement, but with some instruction the child does not need to be a fluent reader to understand their meaning (Ganz & Flores, 2010).

Research shows that using visual cueing to improve communication also improved interaction, and benefitted typically developing children as well by integrating play groups they, “considered their playmates with autism to be friends” (Ganz & Flores, 2010). Studies also show that visual cues help in comprehension as well; Hart and Whalon (2008) found that, “Visual supports help the learner maintain attention to the task, clarify expectations, and encourage participation” (p. 118). Effectiveness of visual cueing has been shown to be generalization and with most age groups (Dettmer, Simpson, Myles, & Ganz, 2000), but early intervention is useful even with preschool aged children (2010). It has also shown efficacy in problem solving when there are not exact words or phrases in their visual cue descriptors, and the students had to improvise to find a successful combination of available images (Marckel, Neef, & Ferreri, 2006). There are numerous styles and strategies for visual cueing, but I will focus on two, daily scheduling and peer instruction cards.

Daily schedules are a good foundation for children to learn a visual system, and it can be especially reassuring for a child with ASD to forecast their schedule (Dettmer, et al., 2000). Try dividing the day into general sections, such as “work time,’” “quiet,” “circle time,” “bathroom,” “gym,” “recess,” and “lunch.” Then decide how you want to represent the sections whether it is photographs, drawings or others. The educator or parent will then need to decide on the formats (i.e. wall, desk, booklet, etc.), and then decide how and when they will use it throughout the day (Dettmer, et al., 2000). Below (fig. 1) are examples of line drawings that are easy to interpret. There are several ways of using the schedule, but one is to move items that have been done to a finished area or container so the student can ascertain where they are in schedule at a glance.

Figure 1 – Visual Cue examples

As a student with autism progresses you may be able to implement peer instruction cards to help in socialization. As Ganz and Flores (2010) state, “These visual cue cards give the typically developing child or children in the group recommendations for getting the attention of and communicating with their classmate with ASD” (p. 80). Peer instruction is a collaborative effort between the educator/parent, a reliable typical developing peer, and the child with ASD. The educator or parent may start with one card to implement doing play time to the typically developing child, and shows them how to use it with role play until they feel comfortable with the process (2010). Then they place the card in the area where it
will be used, and then introduce new cards one at a time. The cards are based on subjects pertaining to the particular students with ASD, such as “ask for a turn” and “hand your friend a toy” (2010).

Figure 2 – Ganz & Flores, 2010, p. 83

These examples of visual cues are meant to make instruction and socialization easier for the child with ASD, but will benefit their peers as well. We must remember that patience and flexibility are very essential when applying these strategies, and if certain situations are not working then make changes to better fit the student’s individual needs (Ganz & Flores, 2010).


Dettmer, S., Simpson, R., Myles, B., & Ganz, J. (2000). Implementing visual cues for young children with autism spectrum disorders and their classmates. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 15 (3), 163-169.

Ganz, J., & Flores, M. (2010). The use of visual supports to facilitate transitions of students with autism. Young Children, 65, 78-83.

Hart, J., & Whalon, K. (2008). Promote academic engagement and communication of students with autism spectrum disorder in inclusive settings. Intervention in School and Clinic, 44, 116-120.

Marckel, J., Neef, N., & Ferreri, S. (2006). A preliminary analysis of teaching improvisation with the picture exchange communication system to children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39, 109-115

Notbohm, E. (2005). Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons

This entry was posted in L1: Learner centered, L2: Classroom/school centered, L3: Family/neighborhood centered, L4: Contextual community centered, P2: Enhanced by reflective, collaborative, professional growth-centered practice, S1 - Content driven, S2 - Aligned with curriculum standards and outcomes, T1: Informed by standards-based assessment, T2: Intentionally planned, T3: Influenced by multiple instructional strategies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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