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Supporting Your Learners With Visuals

Updated: 3 days ago

Visual supports are items that prompt or cue an individual to guide them toward engaging in a particular behavior. When working with children, visual supports can be beneficial in preparing them for upcoming transitions, reminding them of behavioral expectations, and guiding them through functional behaviors. Even as adults, we use visual supports, from our planners to organization apps, sticky notes, and more.

We'll review a few common visual supports. If you are a parent whose child is receiving treatment, chat with their care team about implementing the most appropriate visual supports for their needs. It's easy to get carried away with trying out multiple visuals, but that can get overstimulating for many kids. Try one thing at a time to get a good idea of what is most helpful and build from there.

First-Then Visual Support

This tool is simple to create and implement. Its purpose is to help a child understand what's to come next. You can create this with a paper labeled 'first' on the left side and 'then' on the right side. You can use words or visuals to show your learner the current task and what will come next.

Typically, the “first” side will have a non-preferred task, such as "clean your room," and the “then” side will have a preferred item or activity, such as "play outside." So, first, clean your room, then play outside.

Here's a simple first-then visual you can feel free to download & modify!

Stop Signs

Ensuring a child's safety is everyone's number one priority. Teaching your learners to respond to stop signs can be a great way to support their safety. Stop signs serve as a visual prompt to remind the learner of areas that are unsafe for them to go alone, such as outside. Playing red light green light with stop and go signs is one fun way to teach children to understand what a stop sign means.

Once they understand the meaning of stop and go signs, place a laminated stop sign on the doors leading outside (or any other unsafe areas in the home or learning area). Practice having your learner pause at the door and offer immediate reinforcement for stopping at the stop sign. This will take practice, but once they have the idea down, stop signs can be an excellent prompt!

Here's a free downloadable stop & go sign you can print and laminate.

Visual Schedules

The first-then visual is a simplified visual schedule showing two activities. You can create a full visual schedule to help your client understand several upcoming events. Visual schedules are great for use in therapy sessions and are also highly beneficial for parents and caregivers to use outside of therapy sessions.

There are many ways to set up visual schedules. For example, you could set it up as a schedule for the child's full day. You may also create individual schedules to support the child through a portion of the day, such as the bedtime routine or a therapy session.

You can use pictures and/or words, whichever works best for your learner. Visual schedules can be made with individual images of items in the child's environment. You can also purchase pre-created visuals. Consider the following options for pre-made visual schedules.

visual schedule

visual schedule

Visual Timers

Visual timers are a great tool for helping children who struggle to grasp the concept of time understand how much time remains for an activity. The color (watermelon in the below example) on the clock visually displays how much time remains for an activity or until an upcoming transition.

watermelon timer

Visuals can be so valuable in prompting us through our daily lives. Finding effective visual supports for your learners can make a huge difference in their day-to-day functioning.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. This means I may earn a small commission for purchases made. However, the amount you pay does not change!


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