My first experience with using visuals came before I knew anything about Autism. When Sam was a preschooler, he could never keep his toys picked up. I know that seems like a typical behavior. Most kids are messy. I struggled with teaching him how to pick up after himself though because he had many toys, and lots of containers to put them in. He also got really overwhelmed when all the toys were out. So I decided to use pictures to help him stay organized. I took pictures of his clean, organized room so he would know what a "clean room" looked like. Then I took pictures of each toy bin with the toys that went there, and attached them to each container. Each day when it was time to clean up, I sat in the room with him and helped him pick up one type of toy at a time and put it where it belonged.
It wasn't a fool proof system to be sure, but it did give me a lot of insight into what would help Sam in general. I began using visuals for chores, reward systems, and even meal time.
Liam learned to use a picture schedule in Early Intervention, in the structured play class. It seemed to help him a lot. Since at that point his verbal skills were just starting to develop, I decided to implement our own picture schedule at home. We used it to organize his day a little at first and to help him understand bath time and bedtime. I used Velcro on the corner of a large whiteboard we already had, and laminated pictures of him doing the activities on the schedule. It took us a while to get the hang of it. But now we use it every day to remind him what the day's plans are (like school, therapy, etc.)
Liam has even graduated to requesting some places, first with the picture, then just by name. I suspect that eventually we won't need the pictures; we will be able to tell him we are going to the store or the gas station, and he will know exactly what we mean. Now if we could only get him to agree with where we are going . . .