#282 - Creating the Most Effective Visual Supports with Tara Phillips, MS, CCC-SLP

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC November 15, 2023

#282 - Creating the Most Effective Visual Supports with Tara Phillips, MS, CCC-SLP

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Creating the Most Effective Visual Supports with Tara Phillips, MS, CCC-SLP

Tara Phillips is a speech/language pathologist and has run her own communication based classroom for 25 years. She was at the early elementary level for the first part of her career, and at the early childhood level for the last 10 years.

Tara earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Communicative Disorders at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Her minor was in Early Childhood Education. After working exclusively with autistic children at the elementary level for several years, she went on to obtain an Autism Certificate from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Creating the Most Effective Visual Supports with Tara Phillips, MS, CCC-SLP

With more than two decades of experience, Tara Phillips is a highly skilled SLP passionate about educating young children. Tara is fortunate to have her own classroom, meticulously designed to promote effective communication and create an immersive learning environment.

In her quest for seamless student integration, Tara faced a persistent hurdle in locating appropriate resources for her three and four-year-old students. Undeterred by this challenge, she took decisive action and founded Autism Little Learners. 

Autism Little Learners

During her time in early childhood education, Tara often came across remarkable resources created by her fellow teachers that should have been a perfect match for her classroom. However, she soon discovered that these resources needed to be revised or more suitable for the young three-year-olds who needed significant support.

Tara had already taken the initiative to personalize the resources for her classroom and craft her own content, recognizing the potential benefit for others as well. With this in mind, she created Autism Little Learners to provide resources for individualized student needs.

What Are Visual Schedules?

Visual schedules are blueprints that outline the day's events in pictures or symbols. They provide structure, visual cues, and consistency for students with special needs.

Visual schedules help students understand the sequence of daily events, reduce anxiety, and promote independence. They can be used for various tasks, from daily routines to academic activities. 

Benefits of Using Visual Schedules

Visual schedules play a vital role in supporting children that require more structure and predictability. These schedules also foster independence by helping students quickly grasp their daily expectations.

Furthermore, personalized visual schedules can be tailored to meet each student's needs and preferences. It is essential to consider factors such as color, symbols, and images when creating visual schedules. 

Implementing Visual Schedules  Effectively

While visual schedules may seem simple, implementing them effectively requires careful planning and consideration. Here are a few tips from Tara for creating and using visual schedules with students:

  • Start Small: Introduce visual schedules for simple daily tasks such as morning routines or transitions between activities.
  • Use Realistic Images: Utilize real-life photos or images that accurately represent the task or activity to avoid confusion.
  • Provide Choices: Offer students choices within the visual schedules to promote independence and decision-making skills.
  • Make it Collaborative: Involve students in creating their own visual schedules, allowing them to take ownership of their daily routines.
  • Consistency is Key: Ensure that visual schedules are consistently used and displayed in a visible location to provide structure and predictability for students.

AAC Device vs Velcro Visual Schedule: Pros and Cons

The availability and effectiveness of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) methods can vary depending on the school or location. Robust AAC systems have proven increasingly advantageous, irrespective of age or prerequisite skills.

It's worth mentioning that certain schools may lack access to these systems, resulting in the utilization of core boards instead. According to Tara, a blend of core and fringe systems offers distinct advantages, enabling more accurate communication.

Regrettably, there are still educational institutions and households without access to AAC, highlighting the significance of a paper-based backup solution. Velcro schedules are an excellent tool in these situations, reinforcing communication and behavioral expectations. 

Creating Personalized Visual Schedules

Tara aims to tailor each child's schedule to match their unique needs and goals. To achieve this, Tara utilizes a comprehensive range of schedules, including a primary visual schedule and specific schedules for speech therapy, occupational therapy, gym, classroom activities, and art class.

As students advance, they can gradually incorporate more imaginative illustrations. However, if they struggle to grasp the core concept, Tara will explore different approaches to help them understand. 

Transitioning To Independence From Visual Schedules

The primary objective of implementing visual schedules is to foster independence and empower students to transition away from them eventually. Tara emphasizes the importance of gradual steps towards greater self-reliance in this process.

She recommends gradually fading the use of visual schedules by starting with more familiar routines and slowly removing visuals for activities in which the student has become proficient. It is essential to continue monitoring and providing support until the student can confidently complete tasks without visual prompts.

Tips for Parents: Using Visual Schedules

Parents may experience a sense of being overwhelmed when considering the implementation of a visual schedule for their children. The prospect of having a schedule for every aspect of the day within the confines of their home can be quite daunting.

Teachers may occasionally presume that visual schedules are exclusively advantageous within the confines of the classroom. However, recognizing the unique characteristics of the home environment is of utmost importance.

Rather than creating a complex visual schedule for the entire day, begin by focusing on a specific task, such as bedtime. This simple approach allowed us to break down the task into smaller, more manageable steps, enhancing our ability to handle it effectively. 

Advice For Fellow Therapists

Although visual aids can assist, it is important to remember that simplicity often yields greater effectiveness. The objective is to establish a dependable routine that can be relied upon by both children and support staff.

When introducing new visuals, it is essential to communicate the purpose and expectations for students and staff. Equally important is the exercise of patience, as it takes time for children to adapt and for visual schedules to become seamlessly integrated into their routines.





While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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