Free Printable Behavior Charts, Reward Charts, and Visual Cues for Children with Autism
Children with Special Needs Require Visual Support
If you are a parent or teacher of a child with autism or other special needs, you know how important visual cues and behavior or reward charts are. Some tools for helping children with autism include:
- Calendars: Many children with autism have difficulty coping with unstructured time, and timetables and charts help them "sequence" their day.
- Behavior or ABC Charts: These help parents, teachers, and the child themselves make sense of the child's behavior. On the chart, you record the antecedent (what precedes) to the behavior, the behavior itself, and the consequences. Behavior charts help with determining the triggers and coping strategies for behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorders.
- Visual Supports: People on the autism spectrum usually find it easier to process information visually. Pictures and symbols can be used to help make timetables and behavior charts easier to understand. Visual supports can also help illustrate social stories, which children with autism can use to help explain other people's behavior and a develop a framework for their own interactions.
Free Tools for Helping Kids with Autism
The problem is that many of these tools come in expensive kits. I am the mother of a wonderful seven-year-old boy who was first diagnosed at 12 months. Our therapists recommended behavior charts, award charts, picture exchange communication systems (PECS), and other visual cues.
At the time, we were a broke military family, living on a single income in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. Needless to say, we didn't have the money for the expensive tools made for coping with autism. We could not even afford the starter kit. So, I started to make some myself based on the ones for sale. At first, they were awful, but eventually they improved as I learned what I wanted and which techniques were right for our family. I use clear packaging tape to laminate the charts and rolled-up Scotch tape to attach the cues yet keep them movable.
What a difference the visual cues make! Try out some of these free print-outs. Most can be modified to your liking or you could even use them to inspire you to create your own. Finding the right system requires experimentation. Some families do great with sticker charts, others prefer with poker chips or reward systems. When raising a child with autism, it's important to maintain consistency. Still, If after a few weeks, you find yourself having difficulty using or even remembering to use a particular system, it may be time to look into a different one.
All the images on this page are my own work unless otherwise noted. Please ask permission before re-using on other websites and attribute images properly. No permission will be granted for derivative works for sale.
Higher-quality print-outs of these images can be found here.
Print-Out Goal Charts for Children with Special NeedsClick thumbnail to view full-size
"I Can Do It!" Behavior Charts
Christmas-Themed Goals Charts
Full-Color Goal Charts
These weekly goal charts are fully colored, which may work better for some children. Be warned though, the colored backgrounds will use a lot of printer ink!
Free Visual Cue Symbols
Visual cues, also called visual support, and are used by teachers and therapists because most kids with autism are visual thinkers. Many children respond better to visual information rather than written symbols. Most experts strongly recommend that a visual support system be implemented at home and at school.
These symbols can be cut out and used as visual cues for behavior charts and calendars. These visual cues are fun for all kids. You can affix velcro strips to the symbols and the spaces on the behavior charts, or you can just use a rolled up piece of tape. If you need some specific visual cues that aren't here, it's easy to make your own! Find images online or draw your own.
Reward Chart Print-Out
If your child has his or her eye on something special, like a toy or an outing, I recommend a discussion in which you offer to let them earn it one behavior at a time. Show them a reward chart and explain that when they demonstrate whatever behavior you are targeting a certain number of times then they win the prize.
The number of rewards on a behavior reward chart can vary. They can be used all day long, or for daily goals. You can also create a small book of different reward charts—one for each behavior— and require that the child fill up each chart over the course of a week.
In the chart above, each star represents a time they enact a certain behavior. Have them color in the trail of stars with crayons, glitter, or stickers, filling in each star as they get closer to their goals.
Chore Charts for Kids with Special Needs
Here are a few print-out chore charts. Chores are a wonderful tool to help kids learn responsibility and gain confidence. All kids—with or without disabilities—should have some type of household responsibility, whether it is simply putting their own clothes into the laundry basket or helping load the dishwasher.
Kids with autism and other disabilities benefit greatly from the use of chore charts. They offer visual support for verbal instructions and help maintain routine and structure. Chore charts are a great way to help your child predict their therapy routine for the week!
Implementing Chore, Reward, and Behavior Charts
Some parents find it difficult to use behavior charts, reward systems, and visual cues. The difficulty is not always in figuring out how to use them, but in finding themes to keep the child's interest or helping your child embrace their use. It's also difficult to find a good location for them, one that you'll remember.
Some kids will initially resist, particularly those with autism, Asperger syndrome, or oppositional defiant disorder. They may not want to give up control, or they may worry that they are being punished if the systems are not used correctly. Whatever type of system you use, please remember to always praise your child for positive behaviors!
Reward Bucks and Tickets
Low-Cost Reward Charts and Visual Cues
Sometimes the free items just don't meet your needs, so I have included some low-cost behavior charts below. My definition of low cost for these items is between $1 and $5 for laminated charts, between $5 and $40 for a book (depending upon quality), and between $20 and $90 for PECS. A good PECS system will cost a lot of money, and I recommend saving up for one.
- Picture Cards and more at LessonPix
This is the best site for low-cost visual supports for a child with special needs! Not only is it affordable, but the visual cues have professional quality comparable to PECS.
Real PECS for Communication
If you can afford this kit, then I strongly recommend it above any type of of freebie or low-cost alternative. You may want to start with a smaller set (not the complete kit) to see if this type of system works for your family. It's a bit more complex than just sticking pictures on calendars, and your child's therapist or special education teacher should be able to help you use it correctly.
Nothing else is as good as the original PECS kit.