If we take a moment to look around our world, we will notice that visual supports are all around us. The school zone sign with the big ’40’ that you passed on your way to work prompted you to slow down. The note on your calendar reminded you that it’s Crazy Hair Day at school on Thursday. And your trusty old grocery list stuck to the fridge? It prompted you to do a milk and bread run on your way home. These are all visual signs and signals that are used to support our everyday life.
As adults, without even realising it, we use and rely on visuals each and every day. Without these, our lives would most likely feel chaotic, unorganised and stressful. And it’s the same for many kids with speech and language challenges.
What Are Visual Supports?
Visuals or visual supports are pictures, photos or other visual items used to support a person as they move through their day. Research shows us that visuals can be particularly effective for children who experience challenges with speech and language, cognition, memory, behaviour and managing emotions. There are a number of different types of visual supports that are available to us and it’s important to remember that children do not learn all types at the same time. They can range from simple (real objects) to more complex (symbols, words and sentences).
As a real-life example, here are eight different ways that the idea of a soccer ball can be visually represented:
- Real object – a regular soccer ball
- Small world object – a keyring-sized soccer ball
- Photos of the object – a photo of a soccer ball on its own
- Pictures or symbols of the objects – a drawing or image of a soccer ball
- Black and white line drawing – a simplistic picture of a soccer ball
- Words – writing the word ‘soccer ball’
- Phrases – “I see the soccer ball”
- Sentences – “Yesterday I took my soccer ball to school”
Benefits of Visual Supports
Research has shown that the use of visual supports like the examples above can help children in many different ways as they move through their day. Visuals can be used to facilitate participation in activities, academic learning and teaching appropriate behaviours and interactions. If we break this down even further, visuals can support your child in the following ways:
1.Visuals are permanent
Long after our verbal message is gone, the visuals remain for your child to process in their own time. As a result, less prompting is required as the visuals provide a continual reminder.
2.Visuals support expression
Using visuals can help your child make simple requests, communicate their needs and wants and ask questions. Rather than ‘replacing’ verbal communication, research shows us that visuals can actually help facilitate sounds, words and sentences.
3.Visuals provide predictability and routine
Visuals (for example a visual schedule) can show a child what is happening next and can show what their expectations are. This can then reduce anxiety, particularly in new situations.
4.Visuals are portable and consistent
The same visuals can be used for several different activities across different environments such as home, school, Grandma’s house and in the car. This ensures that the language used across these environments is consistent which can further help your child to understand their environment.
Where Can I Get Visuals?
Your speech pathologist can help you learn how to use visuals and can even prepare the supports that you need. At A Growing Understanding, our experienced speech pathologists are skilled in the creation and implementation of visuals and visual supports. We can work with you and your child’s educators to ensure that their implementation is consistent and meaningful.
Visuals are a wonderful resource and tool that you can use to support your child with their communication skills and can also be a highly effective way to promote independence. Speak to our speech pathologists about how we can support you to incorporate visuals into your child’s environments to encourage their participation, interaction and enjoyment in the real world.