The Sun Diagram


Individuals with autism may feel chaotic or stuck in more dynamic/ever-changing situations. As a result they may have behaviors that do not work for him or those around him. 

For example, a person with autism may have an extreme behavior such as throwing a chair to indicate not wanting to do something. While this is effective in stopping the interaction, it is obviously not be the best and only solution. Sharing and teaching alternatives that meet that same communication goal is key to the person succeeding and learning in different environments. Using visual representations of choices will help with that understanding.

There are often several solutions that may or may not work in a given situation in life. This takes flexible thinking, consideration of alternatives, and imagining different outcomes. Without guidance, these are often quite challenging for individuals on spectrum. 

The Sun Diagram is here to help make better choices more manageable by making them visual, narrowing choices, and engaging the individual in the process.



Many of us may be able to think of lots of options when we are stressed. But many of us may only think of one – and it may not be the most helpful one.

Sometimes people with autism may only see one solution to a problem, and it may not be a solution that works for everyone!

Healthy problem solving is defined by having many options for solutions to any given problem.

Simply creating a visual to help your child, student, or friend can really help them understand what options are available for a given problem. Ideally, you might start the sun diagram and have them add to it as they explore what works and does not work for them personally.


Consider the Level of Representation

Please consult your or your child’s speech language pathologist to help determine level of representation that is most appropriate

Please remember that not all individuals with autism will recognize and understand words or line drawings. We developmentally understand representations of objects or events in a sequence.

Here is the general idea:

We first learn that objects (i.e., a cup or bottle) represents themselves when we see them. We know that object is that object we want.

Then we learn that a part of an object might represent the full object (maybe we just see part of something we like, want, or need). 

Next, we learn that photos can also represent the people, animals, and objects around us (now days, that may be on someone’s phone or tablet, of course). This may be a bit of a leap for some children. Pairing the actual object with the photo can help considerably.

Then we learn that drawings and sketches can represent objects or events, too. This is an exciting developmental step as it opens a child’s mind to books and drawing. It also opens up more opportunities for drawing when things are initially misunderstood.

And then finally, we learn that letters and words represent objects and events in our world. 

So, the moral of this story is to not assume the person on the autism spectrum understands words for a sun diagram. You may have to use actual objects, photos, or drawings. That said, I am consistently pleased how much individuals with autism surprise me with their understanding of written words WHEN I ensure joint attention when offering the sun diagram.

If you are unsure as to what “joint attention” is or how to help your child with it or you’d like to know more about guiding – please see our other Synergy Autism courses. We would love to share that information with you! 

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