Educational consultant Amy Moore Gaffney, M.A, discusses the difficulties of transitioning to the classroom learning during pandemics. She highlights the need for children to learn and adjust to changing rules, routines, and layouts for teachers and students to thrive as they used to. Gaffney considers the learning techniques most helpful to individuals on the spectrum and provides evidence-based visual support systems and practices proven to lower anxiety and increase comprehension.

In this presentation: 

6:55 – Skills and routines to continually teach  

21:07 – Visual about how visuals help 

30:40 – Visual schedules and to-do lists

35:45 – Example combined schedule and to-do list 

36:19 – Change supports

 38:13 – Free back to school social narrative (made by teachers)

42:23 – Other helpful resources


The ongoing shift back to classroom education brings new learning, teaching, and social expectations that require adapted techniques and support systems (4:30). The presenter posits that for students and teachers to thrive as they used to in this new environment, the routines, rules, and layout of the “new normal” must first be taught, modeled, and learned.

“If you spend the first [2 or 3 weeks] of school directly teaching, modeling, and practicing routines, challenges in the classroom will dramatically decrease.” – Kathleen Quill (5:28)

Teachers and parents must have, “the right combination of tools for this moment.” (16:56) Because individuals with autism generally process things they see much faster than things they hear (17:55); the presenter focuses on visual evidence-based practices from the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder (17:20).

Visual support systems and tools can (19:40):

– Provide concrete information

– Clarify expectations

– Ensure information does not disappear

– Help reduce anxiety

– Easily transfer across environments (i.e., school and home)

– Increase confidence

– Increase independence

Visual supports help students with and without autism (20:25) by providing consistent language and structure amid people and situations that come and go (22:00). Just as the Yellow Brick Road was a constant presence throughout the Wizard of Oz, visual supports can (and should) be translated to home environments as well.

Strategic placement of rugs, shelves, placemats, tape, etc., can provide visual boundaries (22:43) for students and assist in understanding the uses of specific spaces. Signs, cards, and other visual cues (24:33) show children what tasks will entail and provide static information they can recall and refer back to multiple times. For example, you can create a poster showing how children can greet each other (i.e., with elbows instead of hands, etc.) (25:00), or use large signs to mark places students do and do not need to wear their masks (28:00).

Transitioning back from video classes makes regulating voice levels difficult (no more mute options). Some teachers create five-point scales to show correct volumes for a given place and time (28:28). Using cartoon characters or things kids can relate to can help with comprehension (26:43). Visual cues can be as simple as an exit sign, footprints (25:28) to show where children should stand in line, or signs recommending one pump of hand sanitizer. Calendars, to-do lists (29:29), and social narratives/stories (37:30) serve as fantastic visual reminders, and the presenter urges parents and teachers to use the same images across settings. For high school students, having these accessible on mobile devices can enhance social and emotional confidence (40:07)

Gaffney reemphasizes (41:30) that evidence shows that visual supports like these assist autistic neurology and increase comprehension by making things easier to process and understand. They also reduce anxiety by allowing the information card or visual cue, whether on a wall or cell phone, to be available at all times.

You can find free visual resources at

The presenter’s handouts are online HERE
Useful resources and printables mentioned during the presentation are online HERE

About the speaker:

Amy Moore Gaffney, M.A., CCC-SLP, is an educational consultant with the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana University, Bloomington. She is also a TEACCH® certified advanced consultant. Ms. Gaffney has experience working with young children, school-age children, and young adults. Through her work as a speech-language pathologist and Autism consultant, she has worked with students and their families in a variety of settings, including in-home, public and private schools, and a private clinic.

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