There are many different strategies that teachers can use to help assist students with autism in achieving successful inclusion. It is key that the teacher starts first with the student and develops a relationship with them. This is imperative to discovering the strategies that will help that child most thoroughly.

The Department of Education in Saskatchewan published Teaching Students with Autism: A Guide for Educators, in 1999. This report outlines many broad strategies that could help assist students with Autism in the classroom.

Such instructional approaches as outlined in the report are as follows:
1. Use visual methods of teaching
2. Provide a structured, predictable classroom environment.
3. Provide a customized visual daily schedule
4. Know the individual, and maintain a list of strengths and interests.
5. Provide positive praise while learning, and provide information about what the student does right or well.
6. Use meaningful reinforcements
7. Consider sensory
8. Note tasks and activities, which create frustration
9. Have a relaxation area. At times, it may be necessary to have a calm, quiet, designated area where the student can go to relax.
10. Plan and present tasks at an appropriate level of difficulty.
11. Use age-appropriate materials.
12. Provide opportunities for choice.
13. Avoid long strings of verbal information. Break down instructions and use visual aids.
14. Pay attention to processing and pacing issues
15. Use concrete examples and hand-on activities
16. Introduce unfamiliar tasks in a familiar environment
17. Use organizational aids and visual supports
18. Provide opportunities for meaningful contact with peers
19. Encourage independent
20. Plan for transitions and prepare the student for change.
21. Direct and broaden fixations into useful activities.
22. Develop talent areas. If the child demonstrates a particular interest and strength in a specific area (i.e., music, drama, art, graphics, computer), provide opportunities to develop further expertise in the area. This may not only provide enjoyment and success, but may also lead to the development of skills for future employment. “

( - Teaching Students with Autism: A Guide for Educators- Published in October of 1999
Pages 19-25 used)

Three strategies that we feel have particulated merrit when working with Children with Autism is the use of a) Visual Schedules/Strategies in the classroom, b) Social Stories and c)The Picture Exchange Communication System ( PECS).

1. Visual Schedules/Strategies

Visual Strategies are things that we see. Body movements, environmental cues, pictures, objects and written language can all be used to support communication. Our environment is full of signs and logos and objects and other visual information that supports communication.
In addition, we can create our own specially designed visual tools to help meet specific communication needs. Using visual schedules, choice boards, tools to give information, tools to manage behavior and lots of other visual strategies can make a significant difference in a student’s ability to participate successfully in school and home routines.
Visual supports help students with autism and Aspergers have better behavior.
Visual supports help students with autism and Aspergers have better behavior.
We call them visual strategies, visual supports or visual tools. Sometimes we refer to visually supported communication. What these terms mean is that we are using something visual to help individuals understand communication better.
Visual strategies help individuals in many ways.
  • We use visual strategies to help us communicate information TO individuals.
  • Visual tools help students organize their thinking.
  • Visual supports are used to give choices or communicate rules.
  • One of the most important uses for visual strategies is to give information such as what is happening, what is not happening, what is changing, etc.
You can create visual tools to give students the information they need to help them participate successfully in all the routines and activities in their lives.
There are lots of options. Schedules and calendars are the most common visual tools used to give students information. Step-by-step directions, choice boards, and classroom rules provide structure in classrooms. They help students by creating an environment that is more predictable and understandable.
Using visually supported communication is an extremely helpful approach for students with communication and behavior challenges. Visual strategies help students learn effective communication, appropriate social interaction, and positive behavior. Many people use a few visual tools with students. Few people explore all the possibilities.

Who benefits from Visual Strategies?
Lots of people benefit from using visual strategies. Do you use a day planner or a calendar or write notes to yourself to help you remember? Then you use visual strategies.

All students can benefit from having visual supports to help them remember and understand. But using visual supports can be particularly helpful for students with special learning difficulties.

It is important to realize that visual strategies are used to help students UNDERSTAND better. They help students understand what we are telling them. They help students comprehend more about what is happening in their lives. Visual strategies provide a way to help with memory and organizing thinking. With the use of visual supports, many students are able to demonstrate more appropriate behavior and social skills in their life situations.

Visual strategies are exceptionally helpful for students with communication or behavior or learning challenges or other special needs, including those with:
  • Autism
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • PDD
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Attention Deficit Disorders
  • Nonverbal Learning Disabilities
  • Learning Disability
  • Bilingual
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Down Syndrome
  • Emotional Impairment

  • Communication Disorder
  • Behavior Disorder
  • Language Delay or Disorder
  • Comprehension Problems
  • Auditory Processing Disorder
  • Aphasia
  • Speech Disorder
  • Mental Impairment
  • Developmental Delay
  • Multi-handicapped
  • And many more…
Pictures are powerful communication tools that provide a simple way to make communication more effective and less stressful for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Those with other learning challenges such as ADHD, speech & language delays or cognitive challenges benefit significantly when visual strategies are integrated into their lives. This department contains pictures to print picture cards to use with your students.
Ice Cream Pic-
Ice Cream Pic-
Pictures help to… Organize the environment, teach skills and improve two-way communication. Most important, they help students understand what we are communicating TO them.
Use pictures to… Develop calendars and schedules, give students information, communicate what is happening, explain what is changing, establish rules and behavior guidelines and lots more.
The book **Visual Strategies for Improving Communication** will help you know exactly what to do and how to do it.

Other Resources:

Who is this site for?
Speech Pathologists, educators, parents, therapists and others who work to support the learning of students with Autism Spectrum
Disorders and related learning needs
What is this site about?
Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and lots of other students with behavior or communication challenges tend to be visual learners.
They understand what they see better than what they hear. Therefore, they benefit significantly from the use of Visual Strategies. Deciding
when and how to use pictures and other visual supports is the key.

Articles Used:

Evans, Roy and Catherine Tissot. "Visual Teaching Strategies for Children With Autism." Early Child Development and Care 173 (2003): 425-433.
This article talked about the implications attached to teaching children with Autism in 'traditional' ways, the need to know where a particular child is on the spectrum and what their specific learning needs are. The authors’ analyzed a variety of different visual strategies and the research behind them, as well as discussing the benefits and disadvantages to each.

Seitz, Jan. "The Effective Use of Visual Strategies in Educating Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. A Best Practice Approach." Autism Resource Center.
A report put out by the Autism Resource Center in Regina, Saskatchewan outlining the perceived social, academic and personal benefits that Autistic students receive when Visual Strategies are used in the classroom. Visual strategies are defined as " measures taken, which use the sense of sight to gain information for the purpose of enhancing the process of communication". This report discusses the theory and research behind using Visual Strategies with Autistic children and also goes through a variety of practices and visual strategies that can help assist a child function in the classroom environment.

2. Social Stories

Social Stories are a tool for teaching social skills to children with autism and related disabilities. Social stories provide an individual with Autism with accurate information about those situations that they may find difficult or confusing.

Carol Grey, former consultant to students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Jenison, MI, and internationally recognized author and presenter, first defined Social Stories™ in 1991. Carol started her career working with Autistic students. She recognized that a major area of difficulty for students with Autism was the understanding and ability to interact with people in "socially" appropriate ways. She also acknowledged that Autistic people tend to be very gifted in visual interpretation. She used these understandings to create a system that would "share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience. " (

The following video explains Carol's theory behind the creation of Social Stories:

Social Story Guidelines
1. Write social stories from the perspective of the individual with autism.
2. Use a combination of descriptive, perspective, and directive sentences.
● Descriptive sentences describe what people do in a given so- cial situation, why they are doing it, when and where the event will take place, and who will be involved.
● Perspective sentences describe the thoughts and feelings of other individuals. These sentences may be related to conse- quences because they describe how another individual may react when the individual with autism engages in the behavior.
● Directive sentences state the goals of the story by listing the responses the student is expected to provide during a given situation.
3. Employ the social story ratio: one directive sentence for every two to five descriptive and/or perspective sentences.
(Scattone, Wilczynski and Edwards)

How do Social Stories work:
"Social stories include four to six sentences that describe factual information regarding a social situation, pos- sible reactions of others in that social situation, and directive statements of appropriate or desired social responses. " (Theimann and Goldstein)

In a social story a given situation is described in detail with a focus on the following:
a) the important social cues
b)the events and reactions the individual might expect to occur in the situation
c) the actions and reactions that might be expected of the student and why.

Examples of Social Stories:

The folowing examples of social stories were retreived from the British Columbia's Special Education Technology website. They have compiled a variety of useful social stories for a wide range of ages and situations.

Other useful resources that we have found helpful when looking for Social Stories can be found at our resource page.

Academic Study on Social Stories and Autism:

Kathy S. Thiemann and Howard Goldstenin, from the University of Florida, conducted a study in a local elementary school, which worked with five young autistic youth (from the ages of 5-9) and ten of their non-diagnosed peers. This studied aimed at using a variety of different pictorial systems (such as social stories) to monitor the effects that they have in improving social interactions for students with (and without) Autism. The questions which focused the study were as followed:

“(a) Does a treatment program consisting of pictorial and text-based cueing (i.e., social stories, pictures of social skills, and written social phrases) with supplemental video feedback affect specific social communication skills of elementary students with social impairments? (b) Do the treatment effects generalize to regular education classroom settings? (c) Do naive judges’ perceptions of the quality of the children’s social interactions change after the treatment?” (Theimann and Goldstein)

The study concluded that the combination of taught social skills (through the use of social stories) and opportunities for student to practice social interactions with their peers, did greatly impact the Autistic students that were involved in the study. Their teachers noted that the social stories are a tool that continues to assist the students in succeeding in social interactions in the classroom.

It is notable that this study kept close communication with the parents of the given students. Parents were asked to practice the given social skill (with use of the social stories) with their child. Prior to the study parents were also asked to explain the strategies that they are currently using with their child at home and explain what strategies are the most useful for their child learning a given social cue.

An example of the type of social cue cards that were used to achieve the desired outcome is shown as followed, as well as the rubric that the various teachers and researchers that were involved in the study used to asses the students progress:


Articles Used:

This study investigated the effects of written text and pictorial cuing on five students with autism, and ten students without any recorded disabilities. This study was particularly intriguing because it studied the development of social skills through an interactive model using social stories (based on Carol Gray’s original model), interactive activities practicing the desired social skill and daily reflections on improvement (using video recording technologies). The study concluded that a combination of pictorial cuing systems, practice of desired social skills using these visual systems and daily reflections greatly improved the social skills of both the Autistic students and the students without Autism. This study provides concretes examples of how classroom teachers can incorporate these visual strategies into their daily classroom routines in order to help assist students with Autism. These findings support recommendations for using visually cued instruction to guide the social language development of young children with autism as they interact with peers without disabilities. (Instructional strategies--social stories).

Scattone, Dorothy, et al. "Decreasing Disruptive Behaviors of Children with Autism Using Social Stories." Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 32.6 (2002).
This study examined the effectiveness of using social stories in the natural classroom environment to target and improve the disruptive behavior of three Autistic Children. The study concluded that social stories do have a perceived benefit in improving the social skills and interactions of social behavior. This study also discussed the benefits and weakness of the Social Story method of improving social cues and decisions.

3. Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

WHAT is is the Pictures Exchange Communication System:
  • The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a visual communication system that was developed to help individuals quickly acquire a functional means of communication.
  • PECS is desighned for people on the ASD who are non-verbal or who may speak minimally or with little effectivness.
  • The PECS gives a child with little ability to communicate the means to do so through the process of visual aids/cues.
  • PECS was developed by Lori Frost, a certified Speech-Language Pathologist, and Andrew Bondy, PhD., at the Delaware Autistic Program.
  • PECS follows a pyramid approach of learning communication skills: Start with basic communication and work your way up! Words first, and then sentences.
  • PECS can be used with children or adults who are not yet initiating requests, comments, etc.

There are typicaly 6 steps to follow when training/ teaching a child to be able to use the PECS as a tool for communcation.

Phase 1 “How” to Communicate- The Physcial Exchange
Objective: Upon seeing a "highly preferred" item, the student will pick up a picture of the item, reach toward the trainer, and release the picture into the trainer's hand.
Phase 2 Distance and Persistence
Objective: The student goes to his/her communication board, pulls the picture off, goes to the adult, and releases the picture into the adult's hand.
Phase 3: Picture Discrimination
Objective: The student will request desired items by going to a communication board, selecting the appropriate picture from an array, going to a communication partner and giving the picture.
Phase 4: Sentence Structure
Objective: The student requests present and non present items using a multi word phrase by going to the book, picking up a picture of "I want," putting it on a sentence strip, picking out the picture of what is wanted, putting it on the sentence strip, removing the strip from the communication board, approaching the communicative partner, and giving the sentence strip to him/her.
Phase 5 Responding to, “What do you want?”
Objective: The student can spontaneously request a variety of items and can answer the question, "What do you want?"
Phase 6: Phase 6 Commenting
Objective: The student appropriately answers "What do you want?" "What do you see?" "What do you have?" and similar questions.

Articles Used:

This study worked with three children with Autism, ages 5-9. All three children were from different backgrounds and all of them had minimal verbal communication skills. Additionally, all three children also struggled with social communication skills as well and interacting with their peers was noted as a huge struggle. The children were trained and observed using the PECS system. It was concluded that all three of them improved their communication skills and their social behaviors. Although none of them became functionally l verbal all three of their basic word recognition improved.

Carr, Deborah and Janet Felce. "Brief Report: Increase in Production of Spoken Words in Some Children with Autism after PECS Teaching to Phase III." Springerlink (2006): 780-787.
This study aimed to see if the PECS program can be used to not only to improve a non-verbal Childs communication skills but also investigated the effects that the PECS program has on improving and encouraging spoken communication. The practical examinations were based on the research of the above article and consisted of a control group ( of 17 children with Autism) and a testing group ( consisting of 24 autistic children, all of whom were actively being taught communication through the PECS system). The results of this study showed only 5 students (from the testing group) to have substantial increases in communication through language. All 17 children in the control group showed no improvements in their ability to communicate and their behavior towards their peers. The control group that did not receive PECS training saw no improvement in communication and 5 out of the 17 children saw a decrease in their ability to communicate.

Useful Websites for further information: