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Using visual stories

Using visual stories

Visual stories are a useful tool to support learning for autistic young people. Explaining what is going to happen, and when, can help young children manage anxiety, know what to expect and help them stay engaged in doing tasks and activities.  All you need is a pencil and a notebook or our helpful templates. 


Why are visual stories helpful? 

We know that consistency and routine are important to autistic children and young people. A visual story is a simple and predictable visual support tool that helps a child or young person move from one activity to another.  

Visual support is about using pictures and time frames to help your child understand what is happening.  

Visual stories can support children and young people of any age or ability. They can be used to help children communicate while their speech is developing or as a tool to predict tasks and activities throughout the day.  


A visual timetable 

A visual timetable uses pictures and symbols to help a child or young person know what is going to happen next. The predictability of events can help with the transition from one activity to another.  

A visual timetable, like our daily planner template, has space for different images to represent the sequence of activities for the day. You can use them to explain what is going to happen, for example: “Today we are going eat breakfast. Then we will walk the dog at the park. Then we will come home and do another worksheet. Then we will play a game. Then we will each lunch,” and so on. 

Some might find it reassuring to see the whole day at once – but for others this could be overwhelming. It may be helpful to ‘start small’, with a few activities at a time, and then to gradually extend the length of the sequence you use as you and your child become familiar with the visual timetable system.  


A ‘Now and Next’ visual 

Our ‘Now and Next’ templates have two columns- one for ‘now’ and one for ‘next’ with space to draw a picture, stick a symbol or a photo.  By placing an image under each heading and showing this to your child, you are helping them to understand the process of activities or tasks.  

By pointing to the picture and using simple instructions, you are reinforcing the message. For example: “Brush your teeth now, put your pyjamas on next” while pointing to each image in turn. When the first activity is finished, you can inform them by saying “brushing finished, put your pyjamas on now” while pointing to the next picture.  

It is helpful to use the ‘next’ side of the visual tool, to place an activity that your child enjoys, something that will motivate them to act or complete the first activity.  

Here are our tips to use visual stories successfully.

  • Keep it brief and keep it simple.  
  • Describe everything in a positive and patient tone. 
  • Have a dedicated space where your child can see the visual story easily and often.  
  • Actively show that an activity has finished by ticking or removing the symbol or picture.  
  • Review the timetable at the start and end of each day.  
  • If possible, ask them to repeat the story or share it with others.  
  • Present the story in a simple format. Black ink on white paper works well but some children find coloured paper easier.  
  • Stress the steps that you know are going to pose challenges.  
  • Try to incorporate the full range of ‘who, what, when, why, where and how?’ by explaining the visuals as you go 
  • Use reward activities at the end of challenging events or tasks. For example: ‘If you brush your teeth, you can play on the Nintendo for one hour’.   


Reflecting on visual stories  

This may be new to you and your child and it might take a few attempts for you to both feel comfortable with it. If it doesn’t work first time, that doesn’t mean it won’t work at all.  

At the end of an event or day’s activities, go over the visual story together. You can look at how everything you talked about happened and how much better things were because you had both been able to prepare and feel ready for what was going to happen next.