How to help our special needs children: Using Visual Aids

Visual aids are a marvelous way to help children with additional needs. Many children are visual learners, and children who struggle with sensory overload find verbal prompts or reminders difficult to understand when they already have so much information being processed. A visual aid helps them to focus, to understand what is happening next, which behaviours are required of them and also allows them the opportunity to express what they are feeling or to ask for something they need.

This blog post is going to discuss various forms of visual aids which can be used to support learning, to help with routines and to aid children in expressing themselves.

Now, Next & Then Boards

These are particularly useful in supporting children who have autism or learning difficulties. The boards explain clearly what is happening now and in the near future. This can help to settle anxiety and help the child to understand that they need to, for example, wash their hands before having their lunch.

Visual Timetable

Visual timetables are an effective way for children to see exactly what is happening that day, or to help them develop independence in their daily routines (such as getting dressed). These can be used in class and also at home. They are particularly useful for days out or when there is a change in routine. Some visual timetables have each activity attached with Velcro so once the activity is finished, it is removed from the timetable. This helps to keep things simple and gives the child a visual reminder of how many activities are left to be completed.

As a child gets older, they may prefer not to use pictures or symbols as part of their timetable. Checklists are a useful transition tool and way for them to become more independent with appropriate support tools.

Emotional regulation & expression

Some children (particularly those on the autistic spectrum) may find it hard to express or recognize the feelings they are having. Most children with autism also struggle to understand facial expressions so visual aids are an important way for them to learn what other people are feeling and also for them to demonstrate what emotions they are experiencing.

Behaviour reminders

These are useful to have when out and about or in the classroom. The reminders can be kept on a keychain or lanyard, or in a pocket; anywhere easily accessable. They can be used to remind the child of which behaviours are ‘expected’ (such as standing nicely in a queue at the supermarket) and also contain other communication cards for the child to use when they are too overwhelmed to use verbal communication.

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System)

PECS is a widely used communication system.

“The Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS, allows people with little or no communication abilities to communicate using pictures. People using PECS are taught to approach another person and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange for that item. By doing so, the person is able to initiate communication. A child or adult with autism can use PECS to communicate a request, a thought, or anything that can reasonably be displayed or symbolized on a picture card. PECS works well in the home or in the classroom.  PECS was developed in 1984 by Lori Frost, MS, CCC/SLP and Dr. Andrew Bondy. It was first used at the Delaware Autistic Program. The goal of (PECS) is to teach children with autism a fast, self-initiating, functional communication system. PECS begins with the exchange of simple icons but rapidly builds “sentence” structure.” The National Autism Resources.com website

Peta Maria Slaney

SEN advisor. Mum. Writer. Spoonie. Shakespeare buff. INFJ. Bibliophile.

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