Information on this page about the interventions is based on the book, Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support, Second Edition by G. Dunlap, R. Iovannone, D. Kincaid, K. Wilson, K. Christiansen, and P. S. Strain. 

What is the strategy? Why does it work?

Clear and detailed cues that provide the student with an understanding of his/her environment. These could be visual and/or auditory cues that let the student understand what is currently happening in the environment, what will be happening throughout the day, and/or scheduled changes in routines. The supports can be objects, pictures, written words, video/audio recordings, or icons. Supports are carefully taught to and systematically used with the student as a way to promote the student’s engagement in activities and enhance their communication.

By providing concrete representation of events, environmental supports allow for predictability of routines and events while decreasing anxiety or uncertainty. They can provide structure to a student’s day and offer the student motivation for engaging in activities and increasing independence. They can also afford clear and consistent behavioral expectations for specific routines.

Functions and antecedents the environmental supports intervention works for

If the challenging behavior occurs…

  • When the student has difficulty understanding what is happening within the environment
  • When there is a change in routine or schedule
  • When the student does not understand behavioral expectations (or those expectations are not clearly or consistently defined)

Steps for Implementation

  1. Determine antecedents and why they trigger challenging behavior.
  2. Identify the environmental support that will best directly modify the antecedent and prevent challenging behavior.
  3. Develop the environmental support strategy. Consider the best method for presentation.
    • Support should be normalizing for the student. It should not make student look different than peers of the same age and/or grade level. For example, if most students use written planners as schedules, consider adapting target student’s planner to address antecedents that predict challenging behavior.
    • Determine level and form of communication. For instance, if student cannot read, consider adapting the planner to include picture/photo representations along with written words. Another example might be to develop a video recording for students who require modeling and prefer to watch videos rather than reading or listening to explanations.
  4. Decide when to implement the environmental support.
    • Ex: If strategy is to use a visual checklist that lists each behavior in a routine to get started on an independent writing activity, determine when the visual checklist will be reviewed with student in relation to the antecedent. This may happen at the beginning of the day or immediately before or after the antecedent event.
  5. Teach student how to use the strategy. General teaching steps should include the following:
    • Explain the strategy to student. This should include showing the support, explaining why it is being used, and emphasizing how it benefits student.
    • Model using the strategy. The antecedent event that triggers challenging behavior should be used as the routine for modeling. The modeling session can occur in a simulated event or during the authentic event as it is occurring in the classroom. For example, if the antecedent event is a demand to do a multi- step writing activity that consists of several steps, and the support is a visual checklist, the modeling session can be conducted in the setting in which the demand is typically given but during a time when no other students are present. The procedure for modeling should include the teacher explaining each step of the visual checklist, saying “watch me do this step,” and then performing the step.
    • Have student practice using the strategy via role playing. After modeling use of the support, the teacher provides student with a practice opportunity. First, the teacher explains to student that they will be doing a role-play. The teacher then presents the antecedent (e.g., demand to do a multi-step writing activity) and prompts student to use the support to complete each step. Each time student correctly performs a step, the teacher provides positive feedback. If the student does not correctly perform a step, the teacher provides corrective feedback in a positive way and then has the student try again (e.g., “Whoops! Let me show you how that step is done. Watch me first. I’ll give you another chance to do it.”).
    • Prepare student for implementation of the strategy in real time. After the role-play, explain to student when they will start using the support and in which routines (antecedent events) it will be used. Decide upon how student will be initially prompted to use the support and explain to student that at first, they will be reminded by the teacher when to use the support. These cues can be faded as student assumes more independent use of the support.
  6. Implement the support during the identified routine(s).

How to implement this strategy in multiple ways (examples & resources)

General Visual Supports:

  • Visual supports EBP brief -This information packet specific implementation steps and checklists for visual schedules, boundary identification, and general visual supports.
  • Visual supports examples – This resource shows several examples of different types of visual supports that can be used, including visual schedules, communication aids, physical boundaries, behavior expectations, and more.
  • Picto4me – Website creating various types of visual supports. Free and paid options for accounts.
  • Download and print basic images and templates for visual supports

Visual schedules and calendars: A visual sequence of the day’s activities, including typical events as well as changes in usual schedule

  • Video of how a preschool teacher implements a visual schedule (1:57)
  • Individual Schedules webinar (40:33) – This webinar, part of the Strategic Behavior Intervention Series, discusses the core components of successful visual schedules, student factors to consider, types of visual schedules for different age levels, steps to implementation, how to overcome potential pitfalls, and related resources.
  • How to Implement a visual schedule (6:56) – This video explains how to create and implement visual schedules through explicit teaching and reinforcement.
  • Free visual schedule template (Teachers Pay Teachers)
  • Mini schedules for activities – from the Visual Schedules Series by Autism Classroom Resources
  • How-to guides & templates for creating a variety of types of visual schedules (icons, objects, word, pull-off, stationary, mobile)
  • Example of specific strategy steps using a visual schedule (from Iovannone, R. (2020). Prevent-Teach-Reinforce (PTR): An individualized function-based support process for school teams [PowerPoint slides]. Association for Positive Behavior Support.
    • Mike’s visual schedule will be modified to detail the number of and type of activities he is to complete during non-preferred activities. For example, if math involves listening to a lesson, doing a hands-on activity, and completing a worksheet, his visual schedule will list each activity under math using either a picture of the type of activity or using numbers that correspond to a number on the worksheet.
    • Environmental Support Steps:
      • 1. Each week, an adult will review Mike’s schedule and activities and ensure that the visual schedule matches the activities.
      • 2. Before a non-preferred activity, the teacher will review the visual schedule with Mike and the tasks he will do by reviewing the visual schedule and pointing to each task while describing it.
      • 3. After reviewing the schedule, the teacher will ask Mike some questions to make sure he knows the order of activities.
      • 4. The teacher will remind Mike that after he finishes each activity, he will put an X over it to show it is finished.
      • 5. After Mike completes each activity, the teacher (initially) will prompt Mike to place an X over the activity on his schedule

Task cards: Cues on smaller formats than schedules (e.g., 3-5” index cards, business cards) to help students remember expected behaviors or communication starters to perform in specific routines, social situations, or activities.

Video modeling: A video recording that provides information on an environmental setting that may be new to the student or exemplars of behavioral expectations to be performed by the student in the environment.

Choice boards: A visual display of activities or reinforcers from which to choose

Boundary identification: Providing visual structure to the environment

  • Examples: a carpet square with the student’s name to sit on, a checkered tablecloth for snack time and a striped tablecloth for art time, tape on the floor to outline specific areas of the classroom, etc.

Labels: Placing photograph, picture, or written word symbol on objects and areas

Activity Completion Cues: Visual or auditory cue indicating the end of an activity, such as visual or auditory timers, crossing off tasks from a list, or having a finished folder to place daily activities as they are completed

Supporting Research

Banda, D. R., Grimmett, E., & Hart, S. L. (2009). Activity schedules: Helping students with autism spectrum disorders in general education classrooms manage transition issues. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 41(4), 16–21.

Bellini, S., & Akullian, J. (2007). A meta-analysis of video modeling and video self-modeling interventions for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Exceptional Children, 73(3), 264–287.

Bryan, L. & Gast, D. (2000). Teaching on-task and on-schedule behaviors to high functioning children with autism via picture activity schedules. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(6), 553–567.

Delano, M. E. (2007). Video modeling interventions for individuals with autism. Remedial and Special Education, 28(1), 33–42.

Hall, C., Hollingshead, A., & Christman, J. (2019). Implementing video modeling to improve transitions within activities in inclusive classrooms. Intervention in School and Clinic, 54(4), 235–240.

Koyama, T., & Wang, H. T. (2011). Use of activity schedule to promote independent performance of individuals with autism and other intellectual disabilities: A review. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32(6), 2235–2242.

Murdock, L. C., & Hobbs, J. Q. (2011). Tell me what you did today: A visual cueing strategy for children with ASD. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 26(3), 162–172.

Nikopoulos, C. K., Canavan, C., & Nikopoulou-Smyrni, P. (2009). Generalized effects of video modeling on establishing instructional stimulus control in children with autism: Results of a preliminary study. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 11(4), 198–207.

Pierce, J. M., Spriggs, A. D., Gast, D. L., & Luscre, D. (2013). Effects of visual activity schedules on independent classroom transitions for students with autism. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 60(3), 253–269.

Watson, K. J., & DiCarlo, C. F. (2016). Increasing completion of classroom routines through the use of picture activity schedules. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44(2), 89–96.