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Why use visual supports and our top app picks

Why Use Visual Supports?

Alyson Harris advocates the use of visual supports because “visual supports are tools that are used to increase the understanding of language, to describe environmental expectations, and to provide structure and support to individuals with disabilities. Visual supports can be provided in a variety of ways across multiple settings. For instance, you can incorporate supports into day programs, home, work, and the community. Visual supports have been successfully used to teach children and adults with Autism a variety of skills (e.g., literacy skills and cooking), to encourage positive behavior, and to provide activity schedules.”

Here are several reasons from Shaila M. Rao & Brenda Gagie that visual supports are useful to support learning and success within the inclusive environment:

  1. Visual supports can be part of everyone’s communication system.
  2. Visual supports can attract and hold the individual’s attention.
  3. Visual supports enable individuals with Autism to focus on the message and reduce their anxiety.
  4. Visual supports help Individuals with Autism to express their thoughts.
  5. Visual supports provide structure, routine, and sequence that many children and adults with Autism require in order to perform their daily activities.

Below are some guidelines to providing effective visual supports that will enable an individual with Autism to perform a desired task:

  1. Break down the desired task into discrete steps.
  2. Decide on an appropriate visual support for each step. Options for visual supports include icons, photos, short videos, picture schedules, drawings, graphic organizers, and social stories.
  3. Use individual, clear, and systematic instructions.
  4. Use prompting and fading procedures as needed to guide and teach individuals with Autism how to use the visual supports.
  5. Use an appropriate and effective reward system as reinforcement.
  6. Assess to see if the individual is meeting the targeted objective.

Visual schedules have great potential to help children and adults with Autism. Providing visual supports to individuals with Autism helps them understand what they need to do to comply with the expectations of their caregivers, their families, and the society in which they live.

Our top app picks that can be used for Visual Support


Good Karma Applications describes First Then Schedule HD as an app that “allows the user to create schedules in any environment and is fully customizable to include specific needs of the individual.”

Features include:

  • 5 different viewing formats
  • 2 types of timers
  • A variety of image sources
  • Steps within specific daily events
  • Reminders of events
  • Choice boards and clips


Good Karma Applications describes the Visual Schedule Planner as an app “completely customizable Audio-Visual Schedule/ Calendar specifically designed for individuals with who may benefit from the use of visual supports to ease transitions, anxiety or for those who may need a way to visually represent the “events” in their day.”  This, they add, is especially true for people with special needs such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, brain injuries, learning challenges, auditory processing disorders and developmental delays.

Features include:

  • Custom images
  • Custom Sound
  • Activity schedules
  • Video Modeling
  • Timer
  • Checklist
  • Notes
  • Password protected settings menus
  • Print Daily Schedules

Other Features include:

  1. Daily events that require more support can be linked to an “activity schedule” or “video clip” to help model the task even further.
  2. Activity Schedules are helpful in targeting specific events or tasks in the daily schedule where an individual may experience some difficulty. It breaks a larger task down into smaller steps which are easier for an individual to understand and manage.
  3. Video Modeling can provide a model of the desired behavior or demonstrate how to complete a task.
  4. Visual Schedule Planner was designed with a completely customizable easy-to-use interface with multiple custom features. The app allows the user to hid buttons that are not usable, which gives the user a clean interface with less distraction.


ASD Tools is an easy, flexible, functional and multipurpose app. The app provides an assistive tool to introduce learning structure or routine. The app has very easy- inter linking tools that can be used for school, therapy, outings, home, and any other environment. The four tools in ASD Tools are 123 Steps, First Then, Timer, and Rewards.

  • 123 STEPS is a multipurpose tool that can be used as a visual schedule, choice board or breaking down tasks into simple and achievable steps.
  • First Then is a visual strategy that helps the user to complete a specific task. This option can be very helpful tool when the user is having hard time to move from one activity to another, whether due to anxiety or fear.
  • The Timer can be used to teach waiting skills, count down the time till the user finish a task, skill monitor, or it can be used to lock in the transition time from one task to the next.
  • Rewards: Reinforce and motivate the user to complete an activity or task.


Stories About Me is an app that can be used to create social stories.  Social stories are books that typically involve pictures, text, and audio to describe a social situation or event.  For example, social stories can teach the user the steps for a particular routine, such as going to bed. Or, it can be more involved and show a situation, such as lunch with friends, and how the individual can communicate with their peers. The app can be also used to help the individuals to identify the valued roles in their lives, by creating their own life stories. The focus is to be on the positive/valued roles that the individual has that give him or her good things in life.

Information gathered for this article by our in-house Assistive Technology Consultant.