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Importance of Visual Supports in Therapy, the Classroom and at Home

 As an SLP who works with young children with significant communication needs, the topic of visuals is one that I continually re-visit throughout the school year.  Everyone’s definition of “visuals” may be (and probably is) slightly different.  Here is mine.  Visuals are objects, pictures or written words that helps a child understand their environment and live more successfully in it.  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 completing a non-preferred task. Typically, they have to do a task that they don’t like and then it is followed by a task 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 that they can play with or eat at snack. This one will sometimes act like a communication book as the child will touch them to ask for a certain 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.

Visuals pictures from Smarty Symbols, Font on visuals from Kimberly Gershwin Fonts

Who benefits from visuals in a classroom?

In a word EVERYONE!  

1. It helps children predict/know what their day or a specific activity will look like.  Everyone likes predictability.  

2. 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.
 
3. It 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!

4. It helps children with poor attention spans.  They will know how much longer they need to complete and activity.  It often helps re-focus these children.

Considerations:

I strongly believe in working in teams.  As such, it is very important to talk with the members of your team before you put visuals 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 are you going to 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 need 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.