National Autism Resources

5 Tips for Teaching Survival Signs and Symbols

Getting-Started-Flash-Card-SampleLook around you. Everywhere you look special signs, symbols, and directions are encountered in every area of our lives. They provide us with information and tell us what we can and cannot do. Knowing what they mean is vital. Knowing them is even more essential for students who are trying to expand their knowledge outside the classroom into the “real world.” Below are five tips for how you can teach and review survival signs and symbols with your students.

Getting Started

First things first, you’re going to need some pictures of the signs and symbols you want to teach and reinforce with your students. Whether it’s a walking field trip with your students, or on your own time, go out and snap some photos of the signs in your neighborhood, at the movie theater, and around the school. Save and organize them so that you can display the pictures on your classroom’s whiteboard, your iPad, or print and laminate them.

If you are working with students who may be easily distracted by the other elements in a real-world photo, try using Survival Signs & Symbols Flash Cards. This flash card set offers 94 different survival signs. Each card features a stand-alone sign displayed on the front with a simple definition of the sign on the back. These flash cards are a great way to review the signs and symbols that students will encounter in their daily lives with minimal distraction. As students become familiar with the signs, you can introduce the “real-world” photos you’ve taken.


Categorizing is a very important skill that helps with memory, problem solving, and organization. Depending on your students’ ability level, you may ask them to categorize the signs into more complex categories like “warning” or “transportation” signs. However, some students may struggle with categorizing and will need more systematic instruction.

For these students, help them categorize the signs by similarities such as color or shape. Find all of the triangle signs. Find all of the yellow signs. For example, you’llCategorizing-Brown-Survival-Signs notice that brown signs all belong to the same category. If students can recognize these patterns, this can help them learn and remember the meanings of each sign.

Another way to help your student categorize would be by using situations that they can relate to. Start by displaying anywhere from three to eight signs. Ask students to choose the signs that would be most helpful in the below situations.

  • If you were sick or hurt?
    Signs: first aid kit, ambulance, hospital, fire department
  • If you need to use the bathroom
    Signs: restroom, men’s room, women’s room
  • If you are riding your bike?
    bike lane, bicycles prohibited, cross walk, stop sign, no trespassing
  • If you are entering or leaving a building?
    Signs: push, pull, exit, open, closed, food prohibited

Riddle Clues

As students become more familiar with the signs, playing riddle games will be a fun way to reinforce what they know. Make a riddle for each sign and try to get students to guess the sign based on the clues in your riddle. For example: You can find me on a street corner. I am red. I am shaped like an octagon. What sign am I? As students become proficient at playing the riddle game, ask them to make their own riddles to share with a partner.

Story Time

Tell a story to get your students thinking about how they may encounter the signs in the real world. My friend and I were hiking in the woods. We brought a lunch to eat. We wanted to find a place where we could stop to eat. We came across a brown sign. The sign had a white picnic table on it… As you tell the story show a picture of the sign so that students can better connect to the story. Challenge students to write or tell a story of their own that includes one or two signs.

Photo Shoot

When students are ready, send them out of the classroom with a partner, a parent, or yourself to experience the signs in the real world. Have students document their experiences through pictures.

Assign each student one sign. Have students take pictures of their sign to share. You can ask students to share their pictures in a slide show for the class. Or students can post their pictures on your class’ Facebook page or even on Twitter or Instagram using your class’ hashtag (example: #MrsSmithsRm120). Students may even have fun making a Vine video of their sign being used. They could record people waiting for a bus in front of the Bus Stop sign or a car stopping at a Stop sign.

No matter how you choose to review the survival signs and symbols, the more practice and experience students have with the signs, the more prepared, confidant, and independent they will be in the real world.

Handwriting and the Autism Spectrum – Notes from a Survivor

by Kate Gladstone A

1Handwriting matters. Technology doesn’t always work — and even if we never write, we must decipher others’ handwriting. (Many of us on the autism spectrum never managed to read cursive: even if we can write it).  Furthermore, we are often evaluated on the basis of handwriting.  My earliest handwriting memory involves a readiness test for kindergarten.  Difficulties here would have classed me “unready”— but the examiner accidentally discovered I could read.

I also remember asking grownups why letters looked so different in books than on worksheets and elsewhere …
Grownups told me these were “the same.” I was bewildered. Even more perplexing: grownups scribbled —
The kindergarten bus driver’s surname, for instance, apparently started with a backwards 3 and a regular 3, according to his window sticker:

Why? What for? Grownups said…

  • No reason, no anything — “that’s just how it is”
  • “It’s always been like that”
  • “I don’t know what you mean”
  • “Don’t think about it —you’ll get confused”
  •  “When your older you’ll understand”

Much handwriting training is autism-hostile. Handwriting curricula/expectations are usually self-contradictory — even within a single district, school, or program. (Programs with internally contradictory requirements include the majority of programs marketed as “consistent.”) For instance, students with form constancy issues and/or figure-ground issues may not equate all of these shapes as the letter s…
Students with these issues and/or motor-planning issues may not process exactly where the letter ends and the join begins (or exactly where a stroke changes direction). This happens whenever the handwriting model’s structure fails to make this motorically and visually clear.


Another early memory: As my doctor wrote a prescription, I asked why it was scribble.
His explanation made even less sense to me than his writing:

There is printing, and there is writing, and what you write isn’t writing because it is printing, because printing is writing that is for reading, while writing is writing that is for writing, although of course it is also for reading. So will you please be a good girl and stay quiet, so that I can finish writing this prescription and you can go home?”

First grade meant workbooks: we were told to copy everything just as it was shown.
I did my best …
The teacher threw a fit! She showed me the work of another student.
I asked what made mine wrong, since I’d given details he’d left out.  I was then sent to the principal’s office …  Please keep in mind that ambiguous instructions confuse and impede Aspies. When our best efforts at understanding are penalized, we often stop trying or caring.

Next year, with cursive, I couldn’t see which parts went where, or why:

Letters had homogenized! Any shape might mean different letters at different times.

The “same” letters had different shapes for different grownups…

The letters “F T” in three cursive forms.

The letters “F T” in three cursive forms.

I much later learned that this is true internationally:

Source for large chart: — school models in France, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands ... to note a few!

Source for large chart: — school models in France, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands … to note a few!

Confusion increased when letters changed after b/o/v/w.
Remember when you tell students “all letters start at the same place,” they don’t. Print-then-cursive requires three sets of starting points and motor patterns for each lower-case letter. This can impede writers who have motor issues, working memory issues, and/or form constancy issues.
To help Aspies understand cursive, show us how cursive happened! We can see and understand factually accurate patterns better than we can memorize, recall, and use the what apparently arbitrary.

Learning how cursive happened was my gateway to handwriting function and handwriting comprehension. (Unfortunately, I did not begin learning this until the age twenty-four, when I desperately attacked my dysfunctional handwriting by combing through 500 years of handwriting textbooks, finding what worked, and discarding the rest. Making sense of handwriting should not depend on cursive.)

The earliest published textbooks on handwriting used a semi-joined form, with letter shapes unchanged whether joined or not.

This page is from the very first: produced in 1522.

This page is from the very first: produced in 1522.

Later textbooks complicated things:

When instruction presumes complexity, many of us are barred from handwriting competence. Fortunately, writing a difficult script isn’t the only way to learn to read it (or the only way to get beyond printing).  That’s why I devised the free iPad app “Read Cursive” which teaches cursive reading without requiring cursive writing.

Even signatures don’t legally require cursive.  BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (8th edition) defines “Signature” — as whatever you produce as your signature: 

“A signature may be written by hand, printed, stamped, typewritten, engraved, photographed, or cut from one instrument and attached to another, and a signature lithographed on an instrument by a party is sufficient for the purpose of signing it, it being immaterial with what kind of instrument a signature is made. . . whatever mark, symbol, or device one may choose to employ as a representative of himself is sufficient . . .”
“The name or mark of a person, written by that person at his or her direction. In commercial law, any name, word, or mark used with the intention to authenticate a writing constitutes a signature. UCC 1-201(b)(39), 3-401(2). A signature is made by use of any name, including any trade or assumed name, upon an instrument, or by any word or mark used in lieu of a written signature.”

The fastest, most legible handwriters don’t join all letters. They join only the most easily joined letters, and use print-like versions of letters whose cursive version disagrees with print.
(Graham, Berninger, and Weintraub, 1998).

Aspies — and all writers — deserve training and encouragement in the most effective handwriting strategies. These strategies are excluded by conventional (print and/or cursive) instruction.

In 2012, handwriting publisher Zaner-Bloser surveyed handwriting teachers from all over North America. Only 37% actually used cursive for their own handwriting. Another 8% used “manuscript” (print-writing) as their handwriting. The majority — 55% — combined features of cursive with features of print-writing. Why exalt cursive, when handwriting teachers themselves write otherwise? (Zaner-Bloser Handwriting Survey Statistics)

Some curricula do recognize and develop habits typical of fast, legible handwriters, avoiding conventional two-tier (print/cursive) inconsistencies.  These include Queensland Cursive, Jarman Handwriting, Getty-Dubay, and Barchowsky Handwriting.  One program of special note is the work of a diagnosed Aspie: Jim Bennett.  You can see his handwriting curriculum at   Jim also wrote the best-selling book Calligraphy for Dummies. He and I, as far as we know, are the only Aspies creating handwriting resources.

Simplifiers are in good company …

Mayflower Compact, 1620: handwriting of William Bradford

Mayflower Compact, 1620: handwriting of William Bradford


For me, handwriting has become:

  • a special interest and skill
  • a path to productive achievement, shared goals and friendships
  • a value that others can perceive and experience
One of my Grocery Lists

One of my Grocery Lists


For handwriting tools and specialty paper click here.

Kate Gladstone teaches and consults on curriculum for handwriting throughout the United States and worldwide, serving organizations and individuals with and without disabilities through individual and group consultations, and workshops. Her involvement with handwriting began through efforts to correct her own formerly dysfunctional handwriting. She helped design two iOS handwriting apps (BETTER LETTERS for the iPhone/iPod Touch and READ CURSIVE for the iPad).   Kate is also the director of the World Handwriting Contest, and creator of US Patent #5,018,208 a signature verification system for pen-based computers.  To learn more about Kate or to contact her for services please visit Handwriting Repair: Handwriting That Works.

Helping Individuals with ASD Cope with a Break Up


Love hurts, and it can be incredibly confusing for an individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder, no matter the person’s age. What do you do when your child with ASD has suffered the crushing blow of a break up? As a parent or educator of individuals with ASD, it’s tough to see your child or student in pain. You’ll want to take away the pain as quickly as possible. However, be careful— in your efforts to help the person, you may be doing more harm than good. Below are some simple do’s and don’ts to helping someone with ASD cope with a break up.

Immediately After the Break Up, Do:

  • Validate their experience. 

Normalize their feelings of pain and upset; let them know that this is a common reaction to a break up. Agree with them that, yes, break ups suck!

  • Lend them a shoulder to cry on or a comforting, listening ear

Sometimes just having someone there is comfort enough after a break up. There’s no need to interject with comments or thoughts about what has happened. Just be there and give them a hug if needed.

  • Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings with you, instead of publicly on social media

Impulsively posting potentially regrettable things on social media after a break up can start a negative chain reaction and prolong a nasty break up. It’s better to avoid this if at all possible.

After the immediate pain has subsided, Do:

  • Introduce the idea that some people will like us and others won’t—and that’s okay!

This is a hard concept for people to grasp, ASD diagnosis or not. Try to educate your child or student about how not everyone can like everyone; it’s just a fact of life and has nothing to do with how likeable or awesome you are.

  • Remind them of all their positive attributes

Discussing this immediately after the break-up poses the risk of not allowing your child or student to feel his feelings and making him feel unheard. Waiting until the hurt subsides helps bring hope.


  • Say negative things about the object of their affection

This is a no-no for several reasons. For one, who knows if they will stay broken up? You do not want to be the person who says horrible things about the significant other if they get back together. Secondly, if you make the other person sound too horrible, it might make your child or student feel like she was stupid for dating that person in the first place. Lastly, it’s important that we teach our children and students to cope without resorting to blaming and name-calling others.

  • Minimize their feelings

Try to avoid being the cheerleader that tells them that life is great and this is not the end of the world— at that moment, life sucks and it feels like the end of the world for them. Don’t minimize that or run the risk of making them feel like they shouldn’t be feeling the emotions they are having, which leads to shame. That’s the last thing we want to do when they’re already feeling hurt and embarrassed.

What have you done to help your child or student cope with a break-up? What have you found is not helpful in helping your child or student cope with romantic rejection?

Dr. Crystal Lee is a licensed psychologist in California who specializes in autism spectrum disorder across the life span. She is also author of the blog Aspie Match: A Dating Advice Column for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. For more information and psychologically-based advice related to dating with autism, go to

5 Strategies to Help Students Focus in Class

TT3inchBoyWEBDo you work with a wiggly preschooler who can’t sit still during circle time, or a student who stares into space or can’t say on task during seat work? If so, you are not alone! If you have students who have trouble focusing in the classroom or staying on task here are some simple strategies to help.

Use Visual Tools

A schedule will give your students a quick overview of the activities planned for the instructional period or day. An advanced schedule can help your students with time management, help them prepare to have the appropriate learning materials ready, transition, and mentally prepare to focus when they need to. You can create a classroom schedule or provide an individualized written schedule for your student to refer to.schedule

Use checklists to make sure your students understand each step they need to complete in order to finish a task. You can also create simple checklists to prepare for the day; organize the desk, prepare to go home, and so on. You can also make a checklist to make sure they have the right materials at home.

Create a reward chart to encourage on task behavior and increase motivation. For example, using a simple chart, you can add a star after every ten problems your student finishes. This encourages focus and helps you monitor your student’s progress. Your students can work for a small reward or homework pass.

Visual timers are a great self-monitoring device. They can help students stay focused and monitor their time. You can set a timer in smaller increments of five minutes and reward a child for on task behavior, with a sticker on their chart. As students are able to use the timer you can slowly increase the time.

Provide Opportunities for Movement

Moving can help students focus on the task at hand.

  • One way to incorporate movement is have students sit on a large exercise ball or sitting disc.
  • During independent work time let your student move around a designated area of the classroom while writing on a clipboard.  Make sure your student understands that this is a privilege they can participate in only if they remain on task.
  • Provide opportunities for movement breaks: allow your student to run an errand, pass out papers, or erase the blackboard. (Remember you can add these physical activities into the daily schedule.)
  • Allow the student to chew gum or give them an oral motor fidget to release energy and give their mouth something to do besides talk to their neighbors.

Use a Fidget

During your teaching time, provide your student with a tangle toy or Koosh ball to hold and manipulate.  Allow the student to manipulate an object as long as they stay on task.  A small fidget toy that is quiet and provides finger movement can become a concentrated distraction.

Minimize Distractions

Create a quiet place in the classroom for students to go to complete difficult assignments. This can be as simple as a quiet corner or placing a study carrel on a desk. For this option to work, the student must not see it as punitive. Quiet corners should not be used for punishment, but as a tool to help with focus. Remember don’t isolate for long periods of time as this stigmatizes students.  Always allow the student to participate in group work.

Give special attention to where your student is seated. Select a seat location that avoids other distractions. Avoid seating the student by high-traffic areas, a door, window, pencil sharpener, or talkative classmates. Sitting next to the teacher is a tried-and-true method for increasing on-task behavior.

Get Rid of Clutter

Try to remove extra visual stimuli and clutter that might distract your student. Visual clutter can distract and make it difficult to focus. You may want to consider having your student’s desk face a blank wall.

Make sure your student’s desk is organized so that they are ready to work. Consider seating a classroom buddy next to a struggling student to help with this.

What to do When Worries Are a Big Deal for Your Child

By Kari Dunn Buron

When children experience high levels of stress and anxiety, it can lead to a number of unwanted outcomes, including explosive behavior.   High levels of stress and big emotions related to poor social negotiation skills, difficult educational demands, upsetting sensory issues, and general frustration are more common than you might think.  According to the 2013 report by the Center for Disease Control, anxiety is the most frequent of all mental disorders in children.


In my work with children who experience anxiety, I have found that often parents, teachers, and therapists respond to the unwanted behavior without recognizing the need to address the underlying anxiety.  For example, a teacher might respond to a screaming child by saying,  “make a good choice” or “that behavior is not OK” or “use your words”.  These responses assume the child has the skills needed to make that choice or to verbally communicate the overwhelming feeling she is experiencing.

More than any other issue, a loss of emotional control can impact how peers and adults think about a child.  A well meaning adult might view the child as “difficult” and an otherwise caring peer might become fearful of being around him.  These responses can greatly hinder the child’s social and academic success in school.  Lack of understanding and rejection can actually lead to increased stress and result in chronic worry, where the child experiences ongoing low levels of anxiety in environments that require flexible social thinking or problem solving.

It is therefore critical that we help children to learn about and control their emotions, in a safe, direct and yet non-judgmental way.

When My Worries Get Too Big! is a book written to help parents, teachers and therapists support a highly anxious child, using a systematic and cognitive  approach.  The idea is to teach the child what anxiety is; how anxiety feels; what situations typically cause him to feel that way; and what to do about the feeling before it gets too big.

It uses a story format to introduce young children to the idea of worries, and how sometimes worries get so big that it is too hard to control them.  The book then gives the child an opportunity to label and define her own levels of worry.  Finally, the story introduces a systematic relaxation sequence for the child to practice prior to events that might typically cause big emotions.

Kari Dunn Buron has taught students on the autism spectrum for 30+ years and is a founding member of the MN Autism Project. She developed an Autism Spectrum Disorders Certificate program for educators at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN and was inducted into the Illinois State University Education Department Hall of Fame in 2012.  She is the author of numerous books including When My Worries Get too Big.

10 Sensory Toys Kids & Teens with Autism Will Love

Are you looking for a great gift for a child or teen with autism?  The following ten gifts are sure to delight your senses!  We talked to our product specialist and they put together a list of the top 10 highest rated and most requested sensory toys. Happy Shopping!

Tranquil Turtle or Starfish

We can’t say enough good things about the Tranquil Turtle and Starfish. This is one of our top selling gift items and everyone at National Autism Resources loves it. One of our customers sent in the picture of her son engaged with the turtle. Turn it on in a darkened room and it instantly makes the whole room look like water is rippling across the walls and ceiling. You can turn on soothing wave sounds or gentle music to add to the tranquility. The pictures don’t do this product justice!

Laser Stars

Watch shooting stars and a floating crab nebula from your living room couch! The laser stars turns any room into an amazing night sky. The short video clip below gives you a glimpse of what this constellation projector can do. This a great gift for kids and teens!

Living Sands

We love living sand because unlike play dough it never dries out! This unique tactile activity is great for sensory seekers. You can use tools similar to the kind you would use with play dough. The large size set comes with it’s own play container and five pounds of sand.  This provides more than enough sand for two kids to play with at a time.  A smaller version is also available and includes one and a half pounds of sand.



The Strobotop has been a top seller two years in a row! This highly visual top features a variety of discs that turn into animations when you spin them and shine a strobe light on them. Color your own discs are included so you can make your own animations. Watch the video below to learn more.

Mini Volcano Lamp

This economical visual lamp is perfect for your calming area or room. It’s gently lit with LED lights and the rhythmic motion of the lava beads is mesmerizing.


Rain Tube

You will love listening to the sound of rain while watching silver beads cascade down a clear tube. This item is a best seller for teachers and therapists.


Tangle Relax

The Tangle Relax is our favorite fidget. This quiet fidget toy is covered with textured rubber. It keeps fingers active, is quiet, and is very interesting to touch.  This item can break apart and be reconnected.  You can turn it into two mini fidgets or reassemble it into different color combinations.


Animal Massager

Gentle vibrations are calming and provide nice tactile input. We love that these massagers are animal themed and kid friendly!

Liquid Timer

Turn this timer over and watch colored drops of liquid gently float to the bottom. This simple item makes a great travel toy or a calm down companion to gaze at during stressful moments.


Ooey Gooey Octopus

This fun octopus features super tactile tentacles and a big round squishy body. Great for squeezing and squishing!

We hope these ideas have given you some gift inspiration.  If you need more help feel free to call and ask to speak to one of our product specialist.  We are committed to helping you find the perfect holiday gift!

Our 10 Favorite Gifts for Kids and Teens with Autism

Most of the people working at National Autism Resources live with special needs or have a close family member with special challenges. We feel everyone should get a gift they can enjoy at the holidays. As a matter of fact, we are a little fanatical about this. This month we’ve put together a list of our staff’s favorites, to give you some gift inspiration to help make your shopping easy.

Tranquil Turtle

The visual effects of the Tranquil Turtle are stunning. This amazing turtle projects an absolutely mesmerizing underwater light effect onto any ceiling. You have the option to set the lighting effect to move or stay still. Want a darker room? No problem easily adjust the brightness with a slide control.  You also have the option of listening to a tranquil melody or the sound of ocean waves.


Aim your LightPhaser at the spinning Strobotop, adjust the dial, and watch the images come to life! Watch animals, playing children, kaleidoscopic patterns and much more. Swap out Strobodisks or even draw your own! Great for highly visual teens and adults!  To see how it works check out the video here.

Vision Motion Lamp

The Vision Motion Lamp is a unique twist on the original Lava Lamp! This visually calming lamp features floating balls of wax against a reflective mirror creating the illusion of several tubes of floating balls.

Flowing Sand Panel

This is one of our top rated gift items, by both family members and teachers. It is so calm and relaxing for highly visual people. People of all ages enjoy looking at it, so it is a socially appropriate gift for teens and adults.

Mini Volcano Lamp

The soothing mini volcano lamp is a calming visual item great for a gift, desk top toy, night light or quiet area. Fill it with water and watch red balls shoot out of the volcano and fall gently down the sides. A true visual delight!

Hoberman Sphere

Kids love to pull the Hoberman Sphere and watch it expand from 9.5 inches to 30 inches in diameter. Push any hub and watch it contract! This fun toy comes assembled with game ideas and instructions.

Find It on the Farm

The Find It on the Farm is a unique twist on the Find It games that will have you twisting, turning and shaking the sturdy 10.5″ tube to find each hidden piece. Great for keeping kids occupied while traveling, in the class or during down time.

FantaColor Junior

Young children will have fun developing fine motor skills as they create colorful mosaics with the FantaColor Junior set. Use this item to teach colors, shapes, patterns, and more. 48 kid friendly sized snap pegs in bright colors are the perfect size for preschool hands. This set features 8 full color double-sided cards, printed on heavy cardstock, for a total of 16 designs. These cards feature kid friendly graphics and will instantly attract and engage the children you work with.

Super Spaghetti Ball

The Super Spaghetti Ball gives a sensation of “noodles” dripping through your fingers is probably one of the most tactile toys we’ve tried. These balls stretch forever and are so soft and wiggly they are hard to put down!

Goblet Liquid Timer

Flip this goblet timer over and watch blue liquid slowly drip down. A liquid version of a sand timer, it’s engaging and soothing to watch. It’s great for the desk, calming area or purse with an approximate size of seven inches.

Product Spotlight: Interactive Communication Cards

By Joan Green

The Interactive Communication Card sets allow individuals with communication delays, articulation difficulties, and foreign language speakers to communicate.  This popular resource has been used by teachers and therapists for years and can be used at home, school, in the community, rehabilitation centers, and hospital settings.  Each set features 120 2″ x 2″ laminated pictures that are labeled. Words are printed on the front and back of each of communication card. Velcro coins are included for each card in the set for easy picture communication.  Each set also includes four Velcro sentence strips to help you encourage communicators to use sentences.

Teachers, Therapists and Communicators can use the cards to:

  • make requests
  • ask/answer questions
  • clarify information
  • create schedules
  • create task analysis
  • identify what goes together
  • increase receptive and expressive vocabulary
  • answer “wh” questions (Who do I see when . . . What is she doing? Where would you find that? When would you get there? Why would you do that?)
  • communicate in sentences
  • transitions
  • demonstrate first, next, and last
  • make choices
  • demonstrate knowledge non verbally
  • demonstrate understanding of the function of objects (where do you go when you are tired? “bed”)
  • low tech, no broken computer to be shipped out for repair
  • activity sheet that shows alternative activities is provided
  • how to “make a notebook” sheet is also provided
  • reduce frustration over not being able to communicate
  • improve behavior with improved communication
  • beautiful 4-color drawings visually interesting

Sample Activities for Use with Interactive Communication Cards


Click here to view the Home Health set.

Click picture to see the Home Health set.

  1. Use cards to sequence activities. (ex. Wash clothes/dry clothes/fold clothes)
  2. Use cards to match an activity to items needed to perform that activity. (ex. Wash clothes/laundry detergent)
  3. Use cards to make chore charts. (ex. Make bed/hang up clothes)
  4. Use cards to have students identify and label body parts. (ex. Say, “Show me the picture of a neck,” or touch a picture and ask, “What is it?”)
  5. Use cards for vocabulary words by turning the cards over to the word side only and ask the student to find the named word.
  6. Use as spelling words. Ask the student to spell the words either verbally, with magnetic letters or by writing the words.
  7. Use for fine motor exercise. Ask the student to write, trace, or copy words written on the cards.


  1. Use the picture cards to request desired foods or drinks.

    Click image to see Food set.

    Click picture to see Food set.

  2. Make a chore chart. (ex. Put your plate in the sink/then wipe the table top)
  3. Make a visual grocery list by taking pictures of needed items to the grocery store.
  4. Play restaurant! Have students choose pictures of several items they would like to order. A student “waiter” takes the pictures or writes down the order on paper and then reads the order back to the “customer.” Take turns being the waiter and the customers.
  5. Use pictures to categorize into food groups of drinks, meats, fruits, and vegetables.
  6. Use in art. Ask students to either draw or color a picture of named food.
  7. Use cards for vocabulary words. Use word-only side of the cards to work on reading, writing, and/or spelling.


Click here to view Recreation/Leisure set.

Click picture to see Recreation/Leisure set.

  1. Students use the picture cards to request places they want to go or things they want to do by giving an appropriate card to another person.
  2. Use the picture cards for sequencing activities. (ex. Go swimming/grocery store/home)
  3. Use the cards to teach behavior in different environments. (ex.. While in the library we should have a quiet voice, no running, ask for help from the librarian if help is needed. In a bank we wait in line and go to a window when called.)
  4. Use cards to demonstrate the concept of first, next, and last. (ex. First you can work on a puzzle, next you can work on the computer, lastly it will be time to take a rest)
  5. Use the community cards to answer “where?” questions. (ex. Where do we see an elephant? Where do we mail a letter?)
  6. Also use the community helper picture cards to answer “who?” questions. (ex. Who do we go see when we are sick? Who puts out fires?)


  1. Students can use the picture cards to request activities they would like to do.

    Click here to view set.

    Click picture to see Sensory & Social Emotional Set.

  2. Teachers, therapists, or parents can use the cards to create a visual schedule of activities to be performed (ex. Scooter board, ring toss, bean bags)
  3. Role play by turning the picture cards over and having a student pick one and then act out the emotion portrayed on the card they’ve chosen. (ex. The student picks the “excited” card and displays his idea of what it’s like to be excited.)
  4. Empathy: Say a sentence. Ask the student to pick out a picture of how they think the person might be feeling (ex. “Sally cried when her mother drove away”)
  5. Sensory vocabulary: Have students write sensory/emotional vocabulary words with their fingers on trays smeared with pudding or whipped cream.
  6. Have students pick an emotion card and say, sign, or write a sentence with the emotion in it.

Joan Green currently runs Greenhouse Tutoring Center for Young Children with Special Needs.  She was a special education teacher in the Los Angeles school system for 16 years and was awarded Special Education Teacher of the Year. She served as a member of their Autism Task Force and co-authored a certification of competency for teaching children with autism. As an educational consultant she is frequently called upon as a guest speaker for national organizations. Joan developed many teaching aids over the course of her classroom experience and is a member of the National Autism Resources advisory board.

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Using Visual Strategies to Enhance Communication and Promote Literacy

By Joan Green

What are visual strategies?

1001 Great Ideas Revised Edition_3DVisual strategies are simply ways to provide information visually. Common examples in everyday life are: calendars, shopping lists, maps, assembly instructions, traffic signal, GPS devices, isle markers in stores, taking notes in meetings, street signs etc.  Once said, words are like smoke; they disappear.  Once signed and hands are quiet the information is gone.  However, written and/or picture information, used with or without speech or signs, provides an opportunity to visually process information and to revisit the information if needed.  Furthermore, anyone with vision, especially visual learners, can benefit from visual strategies.

Types of visual communication:

  • Pointing—drawing attention to something seen
  • Sign language—ASL or signed English
  • Written—for readers
  • Pictures—photographs or drawings
  • Pictures with words—understandable to the largest group of people, literate, non-literate, English-as-a-second-language all can benefit!

Ways visual strategies can be used with students:

  • Visual schedule for the day—class schedule or individual
  • Demonstrate changes in expected activity (no speech today)
  • Clarify information—fire drill—show picture of what is going to happen
  • Weekly schedule—when or why no school (Monday no school, Martin Luther King Holiday etc.)
  • Transition—when leaving classroom, show or give picture of where you are going
  • Students indicate wants, needs, feelings, ask/answer questions
  • Students initiate communication—place wanted materials out of reach with pictures/sentence strips underneath within reach
  • Reminders to stay on task—visual clock timer, water/oil timer, sand timer
  • Reminder to stay in assigned area—colored tape on floor
  • Communication books—class and individual
  • Snack books—individual with preferred items
  • Speech book—confer with SLP on lessons planned—make cards to ask, “What did you just do?” “What might happen next?”
  • Picture/name cards—Whose turn is it? Who is here today? What is this person’s name? Line up by name.

Using visual strategies to promote literacy:

  • Write words on old language cards—Peabody cards, verb and noun picture cards
  • Worksheets—make two copies of each handout, color, cut, and laminate and Velcro
  • Make biographies for each child—if you can read a picture sentence, you can read a book of picture sentences! Biographies are based upon individualized interests and can be very motivating.
  • Make copies of all activities to be sent home for practice and to maximize benefits
  • Put labels on items in room, give them a copy of the word if you want them to match it, and have the children either point the item out to you or go to the item and touch it or bring it to you—table, TV, closet, books, mirror, chair etc.

Ways to incorporate educational goals in a hospital setting:

  • Schedule: Use whiteboard on wall to write visual schedule of the day to show child what they can expect to happen that day—8:00 AM breakfast and medication, 10:00 therapy dog visit, 12:00 lunch, 2:00 Dr. visit, 3:00 physical therapy, 5:00 dinner etc.
  • Fine motor: Have child draw pictures of the people they see each day. Label the pictures and put on wall.
  • Safety signs: Go on “field trip” in wheelchair and find safety signs” (in/out, open, do not enter, men/women bathrooms, danger etc. as well as specific signs that are seen in hospitals), bring cards of signs and have them match, make a list of the signs they see, write a sentence about what each sign means, draw a picture of each sign etc.
  • Reading: label items in the room, give child cards and have them read the cards (closet, bathroom, mirror, bed, window, door, tray etc.)
  • Writing: Write a biography or journal of each day. Have the child draw a picture on the top of a piece of paper and write a sentence or two underneath. (“Today I met Chowder, the Chow therapy dog. He was brown, big, and soft.” “He kissed me!”)
  • Math: Count and make a checklist of the number of people that come into the room each day. Create a graph to see what days are the busiest. Multiply the number by 7 to see how many people came into the room during the week. Etc.
  • Language Arts: Attach Velcro to the back of language cards to identify, label, categorize, create sentences, answer who/what/where questions, sequence activities etc.
  • Attach felt to the back of a small whiteboard and a clipboard. Use the whiteboard and clipboard to write, color, do homework on and the back for activities that use Velcro

Some helpful resources:

Joan Green currently runs Greenhouse Tutoring Center for Young Children with Special Needs.  She was a special education teacher in the Los Angeles school system for 16 years and was awarded Special Education Teacher of the Year. She served as a member of their Autism Task Force and co-authored a certification of competency for teaching children with autism. As an educational consultant she is frequently called upon as a guest speaker for national organizations. Joan developed many teaching aids over the course of her classroom experience and is a member of the National Autism Resources advisory board.

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