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Calls to Action

Autism Speaks Launches "Visual Supports" Tool Kit

NEW YORK, N.Y. (December 1, 2011) – Autism Speaks, North America’s largest autism science and advocacy organization today released the Visual Supports and Autism Spectrum Disorder tool kit providing valuable guidance to parents, families and providers about how to utilize pictures, photographs and other visual supports to improve communication for children, adolescents and adults who struggle with understanding or using language. For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), not only can visual supports greatly facilitate routine communication and improve language comprehension, visual supports are also useful in explaining social interactions, daily transitions from one activity to another and can facilitate adaptation to new situations for children and adolescents with ASD. The guide is particularly helpful if a child or adolescent on the spectrum has difficulty understanding social cues, has trouble following spoken instructions, or is anxious or acts out when presented with surprising or unfamiliar situations. Families who use visual supports have reported decreases in challenging behaviors and increased compliance and independence.

“Expressive and receptive language skills are a common problem for children and adolescents on the autism spectrum,” says Dan Coury, M.D., medical director of Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN). “We’ve found that non-verbal communication methods such as visual supports improve their communication skills, and this guide can be particularly helpful for families navigating their daily routines.”

Visual Supports and Autism Spectrum Disorderwas developed by clinicians and families at the Vanderbilt ATN site to provide step-by-step instructions for parents, caregivers, teachers and other professionals who may be unfamiliar with visual supports or who would like to use them more effectively.

“The goal of the ‘Visual Supports’ tool kit is to empower families with effective strategies to create less stressful and smoother routine communication between a child with autism and their families or practitioners,” said Autism Speaks Vice President of Clinical Programs Clara Lajonchere, Ph.D.

Visual supports can help children and adolescents with ASD who may not understand social cues as they interact with others in daily activities and may not grasp social expectations such as how to start a conversation or how to respond when others make social approaches.  Children with ASD often find it difficult to understand and follow spoken instructions and may not be able to express well what they want or need. Visuals can help parents communicate what they expect and allow a child to express his or her wants and needs which in turn decreases frustration and may help decrease problem behaviors that result from difficulty communicating. Children with ASD are also often anxious or act out when their routines change or they are in unfamiliar situations ranging from a visit to a relative to undergoing a medical procedure. Visuals can help them understand what to expect and will happen next, and help to reduce anxiety allowing them to pay attention to important details and cope with a change in routine.

Visual Supports and Autism Spectrum Disorder is the newest in a series of ATN tool kits available for free download on the Autism Speaks website. It was prepared by the Vanderbilt Autism Treatment Network site at Vanderbilt University and the Vanderbilt Kennedy Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) with support from Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee.

The ATN tool kits were inspired by the success of the popular Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families. Additional ATN tool kits developed to help parents and medical professionals who work with children and adolescents with ASD include Should My Child Take Medicine for Challenging Behavior? and Take the Work Out of Blood Work. More tool kits are in development. A list of these tool kits can be found at www.autismspeaks.org/atn.

Development of these tools is the product of on-going ATN efforts and is supported by Autism Speaks and in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Research Program to the Massachusetts General Hospital to serve as the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P), a program made possible through the Combating Autism Act. 

About Autism
Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 110 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 600 percent increase in the past two decades that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.

About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Since its inception in 2005, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing over $160 million to research and developing innovative new resources for families. The organization is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. In addition to funding research, Autism Speaks has created resources and programs including the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, Autism Speaks’ Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and several other scientific and clinical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, which Autism Speaks celebrates through its Light it Up Blue initiative. Also, Autism Speaks award-winning “Learn the Signs” campaign with the Ad Council has received over $300 million in donated media. Autism Speaks’ family resources include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit, a Grandparent’s Guide to Autism, and a community grant program. Autism Speaks has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the government’s response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to cover behavioral treatments in 29 states thus far, with bills pending in an additional 10 states. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 80 cities across North America. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.

About the Co-Founders
Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism.  Bob Wright is Senior Advisor at Lee Equity Partners and Chairman and CEO of the Palm Beach Civic Association. He served as Vice Chairman of General Electric; and as the Chief Executive Officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. He also serves on the board of directors of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, Mission Product, EMI Group Global Ltd., and AMC Networks Inc., and is a Trustee of the New York Presbyterian hospital.  Suzanne Wright is a Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. Suzanne has received numerous awards, the Women of Distinction Award from Palm Beach Atlantic University, the CHILD Magazine Children’s Champions Award, Luella Bennack Volunteer Award, Spirit of Achievement award by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's National Women’s Division and The Women of Vision Award from the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 2008, the Wrights were named to the Time 100 Heroes and Pioneers category, a list of the most influential people in the world, for their commitment to global autism advocacy.  They have also received the first ever Double Helix Award for Corporate Leadership from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the NYU Child Advocacy Award, the Castle Connolly National Health Leadership Award and the American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award.  In the past couple of years the Wrights have received honorary doctorate degrees from St. John’s University, St. Joseph’s University and UMass Medical School.