Visual supports can be used to communicate with people on the autism spectrum as stereotypically, people with autism are visual learners. Visuals are adaptable, portable and can be used in most situations. They can make communication physical and consistent, rather than fleeting and inconsistent like spoken words can be. The ease of using visuals are seen every day to communicate information, examples include no entry signs, colour red for hot taps, on off signs on buttons/switches. Everywhere there are symbols. Key thing to remember is to support the visual with one key word, for example showing a toilet symbol and stating “toilet” at the same time. To make sure the young person understands that the symbol is ‘concrete’ (definitely going to happen) and therefore builds trust with this communication of information is to go through with the activity stated on the visual.

Widgit Online- for symbols/routines, they have made their online free for 21 days for parents

Weekly Routine Timetable
Daily Routine Symbols for clean teeth, brush hair, shower, etc...


Everyone needs to be motivated to do anything. Motivation for our students is broken down into two types, Intrinsic and Extrinsic. There are more than two types of motivation but these are the two we will focus on when referring to learning or participating in activities.

Intrinsic reward/motivation- the reward comes from inside the person. This could be the satisfaction of achievement, overcoming a challenge or something that the person values.

Extrinsic reward/motivation- this is the key reward system within Milestone. This reward through objects or praise.


  • If you promise a reward for an activity, stick to it. If you do not supply what you have promised, the person will not believe that you will provide the reward when they have completed the demand. Example of this is going to work for a month and then not getting paid for it, you are doing something that you don’t want to do but you don’t get anything back would you do it? It is the same for our students
  • If you supply the reward even after the demand has not been fulfilled enough, the process of demand then reward will not be reinforced and they will refuse to carry out demands. Using the same example as above, if you went to work, did hardly any of the work and still got paid for the same job as if you worked as hard as possible, would you then work as hard as possible?


Routine is different from schedules and timetables. It can be beneficial for students when it is the routine that we want them to have. This can lead to less stress/anxiety and also more independence. Routines help to create stability and order. People with autism quickly learn routines and are naturally motivated to repeat them. If the steps in a routine are presented with a clear beginning and end, the total routine is often learned quickly. Every classroom has routines during the day such as morning, hanging coats up, putting their Communication aid in the right place, putting their packed lunch in the box, and starting morning work. This routine has been worked on through visuals and support for a period of time. This is when routine is beneficial. What we would recommend is that you find a routine that would help lower your stress and your child’s stress, this could be as simple as a breakfast routine-

Out of bed, toilet, kitchen, breakfast and then shower.

Everyone is different; this routine may need breaking down a lot further or can be broadened. Routines are a very individual thing, use it to your advantage but also to your child’s. There can be many different types of routine, we would suggest not to try too many all at once. There are some example routines at the bottom of the page and resource addresses to make your own.

Example routines

  • Widgit Online- for symbols/routines/- they have made their online free for 21 days for parents
  • TWINKL- activities/ symbols and work activities- this has been made available and free for parents/carers for 30 days.


Dinner. Work, Tidy Up, Snack time and Morning Work/Circle Time Routine Examples


Points to note about activity/work areas

Visual timetable (example at the top of the page). This allows students to understand what is happening during the day. This leads to less anxiety/stress as they will not need to predict/guess/plan what could be happening. It sets in concrete what is happening for the young person but also us. Some of us write lists or keep calendars/diaries to plan out jobs that need to be done, for our young people it will need to be in an easily understandable form such as pictures, symbols, objects of reference (plate means lunch, TV remote means Television etc) or hand/computer written form.

Labelled resources. This will help encourage independence by getting their own equipment (even cutlery) but also means that children might not feel the urge to search inside which can often disturb activities. We may even see this as a negative behaviour but it is just part of the young inquisitive mind. If we label boxes/drawers it may reduce this.

Defined teaching areas. This will help the young person understand that this is where I do work/activities etc. This will hopefully mean less distraction. It is the same with everyone, if you sit with your laptop in front of the TV you will be distracted, sit at a table, or a recognised area of work and you will be more productive.

Clear expectations need to be provided to all. In order to do this the aim is to give people the answers to these questions:

  1. What am I doing?
    Make it clear and understandable for the young person. With some students you can state the job that needs to be done, the tools/equipment needed and then the expectation of what it will look like all of which will be answering some of the other key questions. For other students it may be one simple instruction with a visual, Cleaning, Puzzle, etc.
  2. How long do I do it for?
    End of activity signalled, Start and Finish trays or similar. This helps students clearly understand what they have to do to move onto the next activity. For example if you want someone to complete a puzzle you would give them one puzzle in a box, when they complete it, they put it back in the box. Here is when they are directed to the timetable to see what is happening next. Cooking could be that all the ingredients are in a specific location on the side and then when they are all mixed and put in the cooker, that signals the end of the activity and the start of the next.
  3. Where am I doing it?
    This is part of the defined teaching areas. If you are doing a cooking activity we would recommend doing it in the kitchen, even if it may be easier at the dining table. This will help object/activity/location reference. At Milestone we will use visuals (photos/symbols) to communicate where the activity will be taking place.
  4. What comes next?
    This can be demonstrated as part of the timetable depicted visually, with objects or verbally if appropriate. See notes below on Now and Next, First and Then.

Specific word supported by visuals to use

Now and Next, this will break down the timetable/schedule into more manageable and understandable chunks. Such as, Now cooking Then cleaning. This works well for students who enjoy a routine but this will need to be done throughout the day.

First and Then, is a reward based approach where you outline the demand and then immediately reward with a preferred motivator. This works extremely well at motivating people to do things. But it needs to be clear to the person what it is being required as stated in the clear expectations area. First cooking Then TV Make the reward time managed as well, if it is TV for instance let the person watch one show. If it is a computer game, toys or something similar that does not have a clear end let them play for example 15 minutes but demonstrate with a timer, visual sand timers can be found on the internet.

First Book and then Bubbles, Examples of Reward Based Approach


Relaxation music and strategies

Identifying and unpicking different emotions

Children’s social and emotional skills begin to develop from an early age; but this is something that many of our children need help with to enable them to understand how they feel, why they feel this way and what they can do to change this, particularly if they are feeling emotions such as sad, angry or worried.

Building a good understanding of emotions when you’re young helps you relate to others and manage your own mental health later on. Talking openly with children about how they feel and why, can help them to start recognising and understanding different emotions.

Start talking

Try asking your child to describe how they are feeling, and follow up with open questions about what’s happened to make them feel this way. For example; ‘Tell me about how you are feeling?’ or ‘What has happened to make you feel like this?’ Talking will help your child process their feelings and make sense of them, as well as calming them down.

Put a label on it

Once your child has described how they are feeling help them put a label on it. Are they feeling angry? worried? scared? happy? Doing this will help increase their vocabulary and make it easier to recognise the emotion the next time they experience it.

It’s okay to feel this way

It’s important that your child knows that it’s okay to feel different emotions, even if it’s not a nice feeling. Experiencing emotions can help us learn about ourselves and other people. Reinforce to your child that we all experience challenging feelings.

Feelings faces

Encouraging your child to recognise different facial expressions helps them to make connections between what they’re feeling and what that might look like. A downturned mouth can be sad, an upturned one can be happy! What about excited – what does our mouth do then? What do our eyebrows do?

Share your own experiences

There are lots of complex emotions that might seem hard to describe to your child. Help them understand by giving examples of a time you felt this way. You could describe what happened to make you feel this way and share what you did to make yourself feel better.

The ‘Skittles Game’ pictured below, is a great activity to complete with your child, which will help to open conversations and develop an increased understanding and awareness of different emotions, alongside the ideas above.

The Skittles Game

Wellbeing and Mental Health

COVID-19: GOV guidance on supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing

Social Stories are a great learning tool for specific behaviours that require very careful individualisation for our students. Our students have difficulties in many areas as we are all aware, especially social interactions/understanding/prediction and neural typical academic learning.

Movement breaks and exercise

Movement breaks are brief intervals that enable all students to move their bodies and help teachers and tutors to engage learners in physical ways. Activities include


Some individuals find some activities over stimulating and then increase hyperactiveness. For example running fast can cause students to become restless and unable to return to classroom work. When this occurs there is a plan put in place such as a relaxing time blowing bubbles, massage and squeezing objects like cuddly toys. This gives the muscles movement or pressure while the heart rate can decrease allowing opportunity to calm.

Stress bucket

The stress bucket is an analogy we use to collate ideas on what does or might cause anxiety/stress to people. When we have a good idea of what causes the stress we can come up with a plan to avoid or support students to reduce stress and the likelihood of negative behaviour. It is a good reminder of key aspects to avoid where possible, anticipating and preventing their stress bucket becoming full and overflowing (crisis). We become the taps to relieve pressure.

With your young person/ on behalf of your young person- list/ draw stresses that are currently happening and think of ways as parents/carers we can alleviate some of this pressure and action it into our young persons day (plan). The stress bucket depicted shows what could increase the stress of someone with autism, but this is a good strategy to use with anyone

Stress Bucket Diagram with examples of issues that might cause stress