As an SLP who works with young children with significant communication needs, the topic of visual supports is one that I continually re-visit throughout the school year. Everyone’s definition of “visuals” maybe (and probably is) slightly different. Here is mine. Visuals are objects, pictures or written words that help a child understand their environment and live more successfully. They are not communication books but, at times, may be used by a child to express themselves. I will be talking about the classroom, but really they can be used anywhere!
Types of visuals:
1.Visual schedule: Think of this like a daytimer. It helps tells children what to expect during the day or within a specific time of the day.
2. First/then boards: It is typically to help during transition times or complete non-preferred tasks. Typically, they have to do a task that they don’t like, and then a task follows that they do like (e.g. first clean up then gym)
3. How to sequence an activity: This helps a child complete a task more independently. This is really good for routine activities (e.g. going to the bathroom).
4. Choices of objects in the classroom/home: This lets the child know what we have in the classroom to play with or eat at snack. This one will sometimes act as a communication book as the child will touch them to ask for a specific toy, for example.
5. A reminder of rules of the classroom/home/therapy.
6. Pictures, objects or words to support what is being discussed in class. E.g. If talking about Owls and what they eat, having pictures of Owls and their prey.
Who benefits from visuals in a classroom?
In a word, EVERYONE!
Visual supports helps children predict/know what their day or a specific activity will look like. Everyone likes predictability. It helps children with low receptive language skills or children who have difficulty processing spoken messages, or those children with poor memories. This provides extra visual support for them to understand what they need to do. Visual supports helps children who have difficulty with doing activities in a logical order become more independent. Think about the children who flush the toilet then put toilet paper in the bowl. It will cut down on the “nagging,” and that is a good thing! It helps children with poor attention spans. They will know how much longer they need to complete an activity. It often helps re-focus these children.
I strongly believe in working in teams. As such, it is essential to talk with the members of your team before you put visuals supports in a classroom. Some topics to discuss:
1. What is feasible in the classroom? What do the team members feel comfortable using? If a team member is not comfortable with it, then it probably won’t be used. If that is the case, then talk about what alternatives they might feel more comfortable with. My experience is that if it helps the child and makes life easier, they will be used.
2.What types of visuals are you going to use, how are you going to use them, and when will you use them? Do you need different visuals for a specific child than the rest of the class?
3. The needs of the classroom will change throughout the year as children’s needs change. As such, you will need to have these conversations more than just at the start of the school year. Some children will need more visual support, and some will need less as the school year progresses.
What are you favourite visual supports? For hints and hacks for making visuals, go here.