Children with autism often process their surroundings differently than other individuals, which is why the right tools are essential to helping people with autism learn. One of these tools is known as a visual support—here’s how to use them the right way.
What Are Visual Supports?
A visual support refers to using a picture or other visual item to communicate with a child who has difficulty understanding or using language. There are all types of visual supports.
Visual supports can be photographs, drawings, objects, written words, or lists. Sometimes, instead of verbally communicating their needs, children prefer to use these visual supports to convey their message.
Research has shown that visual supports work well as a way to communicate, particularly for children with autism.
Why are Visual Supports Important?
Visual supports serve two primary purposes. First, they help parents communicate better with their children. Plus, they also help children communicate better with others.
Some of the main hallmarks of ASD are challenges in interacting socially, using language, and having limited interests or repetitive behaviors. Visual supports help in all three of these areas.
Visual supports can help in other ways as well including:
- Provide children with structure and routine
- Encourage independence among little ones
- Help build confidence
- Improve understanding among children
- Avoid frustration and anxiety as kids learn
- Provide opportunities for children to interact with others
With so many unique benefits of visual supports, it should come as no surprise that many parents are starting to use visual supports as an aid. All parents need to do is determine which types of visual supports they want to use.
Types of Visual Supports
Different children are going to have different responses to different types of visual supports. With this in mind, it may take some trial and error when finding visual support that works best. A wide range of items can be used as visual supports.
Here are some of the different types of visual supports.
Tactile objects or ones of reference are a great way to help children with autism understand what different words are. For example, using a pair of socks or a food label that a child can physically touch as a visual cue. So, if you are asking your child what shirts they want to wear that day, it can be as easy as holding up two different shirt options for them to touch and choose from.
Photographs are a common type of visual cue that you can use as visual supports. Some children will respond to a photo on a phone of an object as a way to communicate, such as a photo of their favorite sippy cup for when they’re hungry.
They may also react more emotionally to photos that they are in as a visual cue, so you could try a photo of your child drinking from their favorite sippy cup.
Most parents know that kids like screens, and the right short videos can help children learn. These are newer visual cues but ones that can ultimately help educate children on certain topics. A short video on something such as how to brush teeth can sometimes hit home more than a parent just talking about brushing teeth.
Miniatures of Real Objects
Miniatures of real objects have long been popular visual cues and ones that can help all types of children better comprehend different topics. For example, you can use a toy kitchen with miniature toy food items that your child can use to communicate their interest in eating certain foods.
Colored images are a great way to teach children about objects you don’t have photos from. Many times, children relate better to brightly colored drawings and images as opposed to real-life photos—which is why you’ll see these so much more in children’s books. You can get cartoon images of visual cues and use them to help build your vocabulary and boost communication.
Plain Squares of Colored Paper
A plain square piece of colored paper can help foster communication between parents and children. While they can represent actual colors, here’s another way to use them as well, different colored cards can represent different things. Yellow can mean “I need to go to the bathroom” while blue can mean “I’m sad” and green can mean “I’m hungry.”
Schedules, rules, and to-do lists for kids are all popular visual aids that can help foster better expectations in the home. It’s a great communication tool that also helps children learn a sense of responsibility.
Symbols are another great visual aid that you can use to help foster better communication with children. If you are asking a child a question such as “What do you want for lunch today?” And they are struggling to respond, you can use symbols. Create symbols on a board or piece of paper of some of the options for lunch so your child can point to symbols that correlate to certain foods.
These are all tools that parents today are using to facilitate better communication with their children.
Uses of Visual Products
Visual supports can be used in a range of ways. Here are a few examples of ways to start utilizing visual products around children with autism:
- As a single message. For example, your child takes a yellow card from their pocket when they need to go to the toilet, or a puts purple card on the table when they’re feeling stressed.
- In combination with other visual supports create a daily timetable, schedule, sequence, or reward chart for kids.
- To help children communicate that they are making a choice. For example, a child can put the trampoline symbol in the ‘afternoon’ area of the board, stating that they want to jump on the trampoline in the afternoon.
- To illustrate a social story or comic strip conversation. This can help children with autism build their social skills.
Visual supports can help foster these types of communication between a child and a parent.
Printable Visual Cards For Autism
Sometimes visual supports can just be items from around the home, or by looking through photos that you already have. However, you may not have all of the visual cues that you need. In situations like this, there are resources available online. Once you find the right print-offs you want, make sure to back up your images and laminate them once printed—so they stay intact!
Most visual aids are going to get a lot of use so laminating them for durability is important. It’s also essential that they are always easy for your child to find. Accessibility is essential if you want your child to default to these visual cues and use them regularly.
A Day in Your Shoes offers free printable visual schedules for home and daily routines. They also have additional visual cues that can supplement these routine aids as well.
Noodlebook is another resource available for parents of children with autism. On their site, you can get everything from social stories to schedules and everything in between.
Visual supports are some of the best tools that parents can use when communicating with their child with autism. With the right approach and the right visual tools, you can help foster better communication between parents and children in a way that will help everyone involved.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.