Visual Supports

Many children with disabilities have strong visual skills, and visual supports can help take advantage of those strengths. Visual communication tools such as objects, photographs, picture symbols, daily schedules and choice boards can provide the support necessary to greatly improve a child’s understanding and ability to communicate, helping children be more active, independent and successful participants in their lives. Use of these supports can also help reduce anxiety.

Types of Visual Supports

Schedules/Mini-Schedules

Schedules can help organize a persons day and help reduce anxiety. Mini-schedules break down tasks into smaller steps.

Calendars

Calendars provide information about upcoming events and activities on a larger scale than schedules and mini-schedules.

Choice Boards

A choice board is a menu of items that allows a person to communicate.

Saying No

The universal ‘no’ symbol can be used for a variety of communicative purposes.

People Locators

Visual supports regarding individuals in a person’s life can help provide appropriate expectations regarding with whom an activity will take place with as well as many other uses.

Helping Your Child Understand and Communicate

Communication is a common problem in children who have autism and related disabilities. They often have difficulty understanding even the simplest spoken communication from others. Because of this they have problems knowing what is or isn’t happening during their day and why changes occur in their routine. They may have difficulty switching from one activity to the next and understanding why they cannot do something they want to do at a particular time. For a child with disabilities even the simplest directions can come and go too quickly for them to process and understand. A visual support can really help them understand the message.

Visual supports such as those described by Hodgdon (1995, 1997), Quill (1995), Dalrymple (1995) and Roberson, Gravel, Valcante and Maurer (1992) are helping children who do not have conventional communication systems to become more able communication partners. The use of pictures to support our communication with persons who have impairments has been common for some time. Over 20 years ago, Robinson-Wilson (1977) demonstrated that sequenced pictures could help persons with disabilities to follow picture recipes based on previously published cookbooks.

Although the use of visual media has been shown to be effective for communicating with persons who have disabilities for some time, their use with persons who have autism has become very popular recently. This web site will help you to become more familiar with the uses and benefits of visual supports. For additional information, the works mentioned above are referenced at the end of this document.

Many children with disabilities have strong visual skills, and these strengths can be capitalized on with visual supports. Visual communication tools such as objects, photographs, picture symbols, daily schedules and choice boards can provide the support necessary to greatly improve a child’s understanding and ability to communicate, helping children be more active, independent and successful participants in their lives.

Read about social stories, another useful form of visual supports.

References

Dalrymple, Nancy J. (1995). Environmental Supports to Develop Flexibility and Independence. In K.A. Quill (Ed.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies to enhance communication and socialization. New York: Delmar Publishers Inc.

Hodgdon, L.Q. (1995). Solving social-behavioral problems through the use of visually supported communication. In K.A. Quill (Ed.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies to enhance communication and socialization. New York: Delmar Publishers Inc.

Hodgdon, L.Q. (1997). Visual strategies for improving communication: Practical supports for school and home. Troy, MI: QuirkRoberts Publishing.

Quill, K.A. (1995). Visually cued instruction for children with autism and pervasive developmental disorders.Focus on Autistic Behavior, 10(3), 10-20.

Roberson, W.H., Gravel, J.S., Valcante, G.C., & Maurer, R.G. (1992). Using a picture task analysis to teach students with multiple disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 24(4), 12-15.

Robinson-Wilson, M.A. (1977). Picture recipe cards as an approach to teaching severely and profoundly retarded adults to cook. Education and Training of the Mentally Retarded, 12, 69-73.