Autism Survival Toolbox: Essentials Parents MUST have

What is an Autism Toolbox? It’s a little collection of visual tools. They are easy to put into practice but they will make a huge difference in how you and your child with autism survive on a day-to-day basis. These are tools that will help you avoid many difficult situations with your child.

School or home?

Visuals supports are quite common in classrooms at school. Parents need to understand that visuals belong at home, too.

Variations of everything in this post work at both school and home. They are very important to have for both locations. But parents might not understand how important these tools are for helping them have success with family routines at home.

Students with autism desperately need information to manage the changes that take place in their lives . They don’t necessarily process the conversation and information that “floats” out there for everyone else. They need to be able to SEE it in an organized, concrete way.

I know this sounds strange, but that’s the way they function.  Even students who have a lot of language capability benefit from the structure of the visual tools.

Your Autism Survival Tools

These simple tools work together to help kids with autism (and most other children, too) to feel “grounded” in the middle of life activities, especially if their expected routines are changed.


Most people understand the value of using a schedule for students with autism. It’s really important.  

Parents often say, “He knows the schedule.” Please don’t use that excuse right now. When students lose their expected routines, they need help adjusting to their “new normal” or managing a change they didn't expect.

Changes in routine happen when there is no school for a day or a week. Weekends and summer vacations are other changes that can cause problems. Change occurs when there is any kind of outing that does not happen all the time. 

A home schedule won’t look like a school schedule. That’s just fine. At school there is the need to account for every minute of the day in a structured way.  Home is not like that.

communication pictures
boy pointing to visual picture cards
sticky note schedule

Schedules can be created from photos, drawings or written language.

A home schedule will highlight major activities or changes in environment.  For example:

  • Meal times
  • Homework time (in a specific location to do more “academic” activities)
  • Technology Time
  • Take care of the dog
  • Snack Time
  • Play Time
  • Book Time
  • Exercise
  • Game Time
  • Jobs
  • TV

Good news!  Home is NOT like school

Here’s how a home schedule can be different from school. At school activities usually must happen at specific times. Or other activities may only last for a specific amount of time. 

You and your child may work together to determine the order of various activities on your list. It might be dictated by you or perhaps it can be negotiated with your child.

There can be a million variations of this. The home schedule doesn’t need to be rigidly timed like the school schedule is. You can adjust the timing in a way that fits your family.

The point is that there is some structure to the day and some time limits for specific activities. Sometimes it's the sequence of activities that is important.

The bonus is that you are giving your child information about anything that is different or unexpected, like a doctor appointment, going shopping or a play date with another family.

The bonus is that when your child needs a change for any reason, you can lead him back to the schedule to move on to the next activity.

Learning how teachers create schedules for school will give you some ideas for your schedule at home.

Choice Board

The Choice Board can be used very creatively to help the student feel like he/she has some control over life.

For example: The schedule says you need to do a job during Job Time. But creating a Choice Board for jobs will give the student an opportunity to choose which job gets done.

Choice Boards are useful to help students know what their options are, for example with snacks.  If it is not on the Choice Board, it’s not available right now.

Consider creating some choice boards for various time slots on your schedule.

things to do with the dog
Choice board for taking care of the dog.


How long will this change in my routine exist?  When will a holiday or special activity occur? The calendar is important to orient what is happening. 

Cross off days as they go by. You can even pick days on the calendar where we will review what’s happening. For example, every Friday we will have a “meeting” to talk about what is happening next.

Surprise Box

Our students with Autism don’t manage unexpected surprises well. But an expected surprise can be different.

Consider creating some kind of surprise that is a little different. It will be something to look forward to. Find a box or bag or envelope and label it in a fun way.

The surprise can be a toy, a snack, a note, a picture. You know what your child will enjoy.

You can use this as a reward for accomplishing something that’s a bit challenging. Or you can establish a specific time to open your surprise. You’ll know how to use this tool to the best advantage. Just remember that surprises can be great motivators for kids.

Visual tool to warn the student

It helps to have a visual tool that communicates the difficulty of the situation. How do you communicate "Something is Changing", "I don’t know", "It’s OK"

  • Warn them that something is going to change
  • Tell them when we don’t know the answer
  • Assure them that it will be OK
visual - something is going to change

What’s the REAL goal?

How do you create a “new normal” when you don’t know all the information? It’s a challenge.  But it’s even a greater challenge for your child when familiar routines and activities are suddenly stopped.

For example, people started out thinking the Coronavirus pandemic was just a short interruption in daily life. Then it stretched out for a long time.

Putting a few visual tools in place will help your child adjust to changes in life routines more quickly and with less anxiety. (And these visual tools will help your family harmony.)

The real goal is family harmony

The best way to achieve balance is using some visual tools to give your child information. Your Autism Toolbox will help create success at home.

P.S. A Conversation Book is another visual tool that will help your child and your family manage through this challenging time. It’s another “must have.”  Read about it HERE

P.P.S. Please don’t get hung up on how to make your visual tools. They don’t need to be fancy. . . . especially in an emergency. Take photos with your phone. Download some pictures from the internet. Write something down on a piece of paper.

P.P.P.S. Yes! You have permission to forward this article to your friends or the parents of your students. Implementing a few simple ideas can create a much better experience for everyone.

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