Setting up a choice board at home to aid communication and implement structure

ASDTeacher choice board

The School Setting:

A school setting for an autistic child should be highly structured and have familiar routines that the child can anticipate. Communication is encouraged through speech as well as sign, symbols, photos and objects, depending on the ability of the child. A classroom set up specifically for autistic children would tend to be low arousing (plain walls so it is not too distracting) with objects and toys organised neatly and clearly labelled.

To encourage communication for children able to understand symbols or photos, the child would have to ask for an object of choice through speech, sign or through giving a picture or a symbol sentence to an adult of the desired object in exchange for the object. You will be aware if  your child uses pictures or symbols at school.

The Home Setting:

The home setting tends to be less structured and toys and objects tend to be freely available and open to the child. This can be great for some children and families as it promotes independence and enables children to do things for themselves. In some circumstances, having every object freely available to a child can lead to a child having free rein of the house and taking whatever they want as and when they want it, which for some families can cause many difficulties.

If a child is using pictures or symbols to enhance communication at school, there is no reason why you can not use them at home. Encouraging a child to ask for an object whether its is a favourite toy or a drink can promote good communication between the child and family members. Apart from aiding communication, having a picture choice board can also enable the child to use 1 object at a time and if managed consistently and encouraging a child to tidy a toy away if asking for a different one, could also help to reduce the amount of mess!

The Aims of the Picture Choice Board

– Encourage communication by giving the child a means to request a particular object.
– Promote a communication exchange with a family member- the child requests by giving a picture card to a family member who then responds by giving the desired object.
– If a child can talk, it gives a child a visual prompt to use the correct language.
– Narrow the selection of choice down- there could be a selection of as little as 2 choices or 8 plus!
– Implement structure, routine and familiarity which could help to reduce anxiety


Making a Picture Choice Board:

Minimum requirements:

Pencil and paper

Maximum requirements:

Computer picture editing programme (e.g Microsoft Word)
Access to the internet/ digital camera

Here is one way of making a picture choice board. Say your child’s favourite objects to use at home are;
Tangle toy
Thomas the Tank Engine Puzzle
Gym ball
Spin top

You can find pictures of all of these easily by searching on Google Images. Here are the pictures I found:


gym ball                       tangle                      spin top



Windows-PC                         Thomas-the-Train-jigsaw-puzzle                       lego

The picture needs to look the same as the actual object in order for the child to make the connection between the picture and the object. Alternatively, if you have a digital camera or phone with a camera, you can take a photo of the exact object. You may also be able to find symbols that your child can understand and generalise to different types of one object (e.g puzzle for multiple types of puzzle). One good free symbol website is Do2Learn and there are many others (I will write a post on this at a later date!). Schools are lucky to have funding for symbol computer programmes to make numerous good quality symbols, but they can be very expensive.

communication photo choice board

Once you have found appropriate pictures, they can be printed on one page for the child to point at or they can be cut into individual pictures. I would recommend buying a laminator and laminating sheets to make durable individual pictures. Laminators start from around £10 for the cheapest  and go up in price for better quality. Believe me, I would not be able to run my classroom without a laminator!

If you do not have access to a computer then it may be worth trying a drawing of the object, it may make just as much sense to a child as a photo depending on the child’s ability. Here is 2 examples of drawings I have done!


asdteacher spin top picture card








So it is easy enough to make individual drawing picture cards or below is 1 way I have created individual picture cards on the computer programme Microsoft Word (you can use any editing programme):

ASDTeacher choice board

I have created these pictures into individual picture cards ready to be cut and laminated. I positioned the pictures, wrote the corresponding text below (for the child to pair the text with the picture to develop their reading skills) and then I put a box around them to separate individual pictures.  I used Microsoft Word however, you can use any computer programme that edit’s pictures.

Download picture cards example PDF

Once you have made some picture cards, you may want to use velcro to attach them to a board (perhaps a laminated piece of A4 paper). Velcro is another essential for ASD Teacher’s!

Using the Picture Choice Board

Ensure all of the items on the choice board are definitely available to use. Place the choice board somewhere within the child’s reach and view such as on a table or on the side of a unit. Make sure that the child does not get the item they want until they give you the picture card (or point to it depending on what your child is used to doing). This will be very hard at first as your child may be used to taking the objects whenever they want by themselves. If necessary, place your hand over their hand and physically prompt them to give you the picture card and then give them their desired object straight away. After doing this enough times, a child can learn that when they give you a picture card, they get the corresponding item and will request by themselves. Make sure these physical prompts are gradually reduced as the child learns what they need to do. Be consistent with using the choice board and make sure whenever an item is requested, the child gets it.

Remember, not all children can recognise pictures, photos or symbols. Ensure you know your child can before trying to introduce a system like this.

Please ask any questions in the comments and I will reply as soon as I can!

How to structure a lesson or activity for pupils with autism

Structuring a lesson or activity by breaking it down into small parts with visual prompts can make the lesson/ activity manageable for autistic children because it enables the pupils to know what they will be doing now, next and when the activity is coming to an end. Here is an example of visual symbols used in a physical education lesson.

visual symbols for p.e.

At the beginning of the lesson, I would say “what’s first?” and take the first symbol to show all the children individually so they can say, sign, read or point to the symbol. In this case it is ‘warm up’ so we would then do the warm up. When the warm up is finishing, I would count down from 5 and say “warm up has finished”. In a P.E. lesson I usually ask the children to “sit on the bench” before referring them to the visual symbols and removing the warm up symbol whilst again saying “warm up has finished”. I would then say “whats next?” and again individually show the children the next symbol. This process is repeated for each small activity of the lesson. This gives a clear structure and routine to the lesson which the children learn and can feel comfortable with. When it is time for ‘cool down’, the children can clearly see the lesson is coming to an end as there is only 1 symbol left.

Here is a similar example of how I’ve structured a music lesson using a similar routine. I have used the SCERTS model (green and red board- green for what is coming up and red for finished).

visual symbols for music lesson


There is a similar pattern with how I’ve structured this lesson. The lesson is broken down into smaller activities and each has a visual symbol to show the children what is next. When an activity has finished, I move it to the red finished area and say “what’s next?” before showing all of the children individually the next activity for them to say, sign, read or point to.

Don’t forget this structure can benefit all children and can make mainstream activities more inclusive by enabling the children that can understand symbols to know what is happening next and how many activities to go before the session is finishing. This type of structure could also be used with photos for children who understand photos but perhaps not symbols, objects of reference for children at that level and words for more able children who are confident at reading.

Also, do remember that a symbol programme like the one I have used to make symbols is also not necessary. Symbols like these can be replaced by pictures simply found on the internet, photos you have taken or by simply drawing a picture!

Lesson and activity visual instructions – teaching resources for children with autism

During my subject, class or group lessons I will give each child a visual step by step instruction resource that me and my teaching assistants will have made using a symbol computer program (My school uses ‘Communicate In Print’) I print the symbol resources I’ve made and then laminate them.

The instructions give the children a visual step by step guide to the activity. This gives the children a visual structure to the lesson where the beginning and ending is clear. Visual step by step guides promote independence as the children are able to see the steps first and are not completely relying on a verbal instruction from an adult. More able children who can read are able to follow visual instructions with increasing independence as they read each step before undertaking the task.

Here is an example of a booklet for children who understand symbols but are not yet reading and possibly have a short attention span (hence no more than 2 symbols per age).

large symbol visual instruction

large symbol visual instruction

large symbol visual instruction

large symbol visual instruction

large symbol visual instruction

large symbol visual instruction

The large symbols are easy to see and focus on for a child with a short attention span. Only 1 symbol per page allows the child to focus only on that symbol instruction rather than seeing multiple instructions on 1 page. Before beginning each step of the task we will look at the symbol, point to the symbol and then say and sign the symbol. When the step is complete, I will say “…….  has finished” and the children will then move a red square onto  the box next to the symbol to highlight that step has finished. (See photos above – when a child puts a red square next to the symbol, this means the step has finished). This routine can be taught using physical and verbal prompts initially before reducing them as the child becomes more familiar and confident with the routine.

For the children who are more able and perhaps recognise a few words, the following visual instructions would be more suitable for the same activity. As the child becomes more able to read and understand text, these instructions can simply be written bullet points.

Visual instructions

The next instructions follow the SCERTS model ( for visual in-task schedules. The steps to be undertaken are on the green side and when the step is finished, the child moves it to the red side. These instructions show a clear beginning and end to the activity. I make these instructions for the children in my class that recognise some words or can read. After completing a step I ask the children “whats next?” and they read the next step on the green side. I will then model the task for the children so they can see how to do it before they begin the task. As you can see I have differentiated the 2 boards below for children at different levels by using a maximum of 2 symbols per instruction on one and much more detailed text on the other.

SCERTS in task schedule


For parents and schools without a symbol program, resources like this can be made with photos and images found simply on the internet (searching a word on google images will bring up a large selection of related images!). You don’t even need to have access to a computer or the internet, just simply drawing a picture will be just as good. The instructions above could just be simple drawings of first a pizza, tomato sauce, cheese, the toppings and the oven down the side of a page!

Please post any questions below.

Days of the week board

A visual days of the week board can be great for children with autism to learn the days of the week, the differences that happen on each day and how many days left there are until the end of the week. Here is an example of a days of the week board I show the children at the beginning of every day and I ask the question “what day is it today?”.

days of the week


I then say a child’s name and they give me the day of the week that it is today. The day is then put at the top of our morning registration board. After each day is finished, I do not put that day back on the board so it shows the children a visual count down of how many days are left in the week such as on Thursday the only days showing on the board will be Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The subject symbols next to each day show the children an activity that is happening that day that does not happen on the other days such as dance on a Monday.

The days of the week board is also useful to prepare the children for a change in the routine. For example, last week we were not going to go swimming on Friday as we were going to a dance festival. At the beginning of the week I changed the symbol next to Friday to dance festival and also put a red cross over another swimming symbol to show no swimming on Friday. When I showed the morning board to the children on the Monday morning, it was clear that many of them understood that there was no swimming on Friday. Two children were able to say “no swimming”, 1 non verbal child spontaneously walked over to the board and pointed to ‘no swimming’ and 1 child screamed (his favourite activity is swimming!).


Visual register board for children with autism

This is the register board I use with my class of children with autism at the beginning and the end of every day. First thing in the morning, the class sit as a group in a semi circle and sing a ‘good morning’ song to each child (the same song every day to keep the routine familiar). After singing to each child, the child walks to the register board and moves their photo or name from the home section to the school section. Once we have sung to every child who is in school, I then choose a child to count “how many children?”. The child counts how many children (with or without support) and chooses the amount from a number board which I then show to each child and it is put below the school section as seen in the photo.

registration board

At the end of the day, we sing a ‘time to go home’ song and then each child takes it in turn to move their name or photo from the school section to the home section. This enables the children to know that it is now time to go home. This is a good familiar routine for the children which can be easily learnt and also a great visual for everyone to see who is in school that day.

Free iPad apps I am using in the classroom

I currently have 1 iPad for my class of autistic children and I use it for 1 to 1 and group sessions. IPads are extremely motivating and rewarding for any child and the learning opportunities are endless. Here are some of the iPad apps me and my class love to use.



Pocket Pond

by TriggerWave LLC

“Create relaxing ripples while you enjoy the sounds of nature. Interact with the fish – scare them, feed them, and watch their schooling behaviour”.

Pocket pond is a great cause and effect app which is a favourite of most of the children in my class. When the screen is touched the pond ripples and the fish swim away. The lifelike sound effects make it feel like a real pond.



Grid Player

by Sensory Software International

Grid player is an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app which uses widget symbols and speech. The symbols can be pressed to create a sentence. All of the children in my class are using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and I am currently using this app with 1 of my pupils who is at a more advanced stage of PECS and has a large vocabulary. As I have not been using this app for that long, I feel I am yet to use it to its full potential. Grid Player can be used with different grid sets and there are over 12,000 widget symbols. I would definitely recommend parents, teachers and speech and language therapists to download and explore the communication opportunities of this app.



Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 18.54.22

by Fireworks Games

Ilovefireworks is another great cause and effect app where you can create fireworks displays by pressing the screen. With 3d graphics and real sounds, this is another favourite of the children in my class!



By My Insane Logic Ltd.

“A simple, fun and engaging way to aid language development and learn Makaton.”

The MyChociePad Memory game is a simple matching pairs game using Makaton symbols. Once a pair of symbols have been matched, a short video clip of  the Makaton sign is shown for the child to practice. This is great for practicing and learning new signs. There are 3 different game levels so 4, 6 or 8 tiles can be chosen. Core vocabulary symbols and signs come with the free edition of the game and over 100 signs and symbols can be purchased for £4.99 in the full edition. This app will be great for parents and teachers to learn signs as well.

Another favourite iPad app used in our classroom is Cause and Effect Sensory Light Box (£1.49). I wrote a full review here

What are your favourite apps? Let me know in the comments section below.


My singing choice board

I do a singing session at the end of every day with my class of children with autism. Previously the children were taking turns to choose from a choice of song symbols and now I have moved them on to choosing whether to ‘watch’ an interactive version of the song on the interactive  whiteboard or ‘sing’ the song. The verb is colour coded yellow and the song is green to help the children place the symbols in the correct order.

What resources do you use for choice making for singing or other activities?

Sand timers for children with autism

I cannot stress enough how valuable sand timers are for children with autism and teachers, parents and any one else working with children with autism. Sand timers clearly provide a visual aid and count down to the end of an activity and can be used in daily routines and during lessons. Sand timers can be used in any setting including at home. They can also help children to develop an understanding of time. I always use a sand timer to show when an activity is coming to an end followed with a verbal countdown from 5.

Visual timetables for children with autism

Visual timetables aid transitions by enabling children with autism to understand what they will be doing next or where they will be going. Visual timetables enable children to be independent and can motivate children by making it clear what will be happening in the day.

The child removes the next symbol from the timetable and travels with it to a board by the next transition point (i.e the classroom door, next too or on the classroom table or another room) and matches it to a corresponding bigger symbol. A finished box or pouch can also be used. The photo below shows a big symbol for dance and toilet which is on the door leading to the dance hall and the toilet. The big symbols are changed before prior to the children making the transition.

big symbol transition

The different coloured timetables making it clear to the child which timetable is theirs. The children using the timetables above are working at a symbol level. Timetables can be made up of objects of reference, photos, symbols or words for children who can read and have a good understanding of text. Travelling timetables can be made on clipboards for photos and symbols and wipe boards for written timetables.

Poisson Rouge, a great online learning resource

If you’re not aware of Poisson Rouge, I recommend you have a look at it now! Developed by a team of linguists, graphic artists, musicians and educational psychologists, Poisson Rouge is an amazing free interactive children’s website full of activities and games and autistic children will love it!

The great thing is there is no text or instructions and the screen is easy to navigate. There are lots of great activities which can develop hand-eye coordination, mouse skills, number skills, reading skills, music, different languages, colour and so much more! All of the children I have taught across the primary age with or without autism could all learn and play independently on this great online educational resource.

“No text, no instructions, but carefully designed visual environments and soundscapes make
Poisson Rouge Interactica’s productions resemble nothing else in the interactive world.”

What do you think of Poisson Rouge? Can you recommend any other great online resources?