I remember the first time I realized how powerful visual signs were in my environment. I was fifteen and sitting with my driver’s education booklet trying to memorize all the signs that were important to pass the driving test in order to get my learner’s permit. These particular signs were vital tools to help me stay safe while interacting on the road with other vehicles. In the same way, visual tools can be powerful supports for those in the special needs community.
Visual supports come in many different types such as videos, objects in the environment, pictures, symbols and written words that can be used across many different types of devices such as ipads, phones, or as printed tangible images.
Visuals can be used in powerful and various ways to help those with special needs, for example:
Visuals are helpful to explain a task or a combination of skills placed together such as hand washing, getting a haircut, or playing a game with others such as go fish.
Visuals illustrate a story such as a social story that communicates a specific message, such as the book “My Mouth is a Volcano” By Julia Cook which teaches an idea of properly asking for a turn to speak.
Visuals are capable of forming different types of communication such as providing an image of a toilet to request going to the restroom or providing an image of an angry face to communicate the emotion of anger.
Visuals combined together can create items such as a token system, reward chart, or a schedule to provide structure in a daily routine, or increase the wait time before receiving an item. This last example increases the delay between when a task (or tasks) is presented and the reward being given. A real life example is a token chart where a child earns a candy every five times that they successfully use the bathroom, with the goal being to increase the number of times the child can go without receiving the reward.
Visuals provide those in the community a compelling way to provide the learner the ability understand in-depth concepts, build their confidence, provide structure in routine, and allow the opportunity for interaction with others. Visuals are integral to the environment as an engine driving the communication to those in the community.
Just as I learned in Driver’s Ed, visuals remain necessary for everyone in each community, not just the neurotypical or neurodiverse populations. Learning how to use visuals will continue to help bridge gaps, however small, between the two communities.
Gerhardt, P, Cohen, M. (2014) Visual supports for people with autism: a guide for parents and professionals. Woodbine House
Cook, J., & Hartman, C. (2019). My mouth is a volcano! Chattanooga, TN.: National Center for Youth Issues.
Visual supports. (n.d.). Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/communication/communication-tools/visual-supports