Ready Your Class: Visual Aids

Photo Credit: Pexels/Suzy Hazelwood

One of the most important tools that you can have as a provider when it comes to children with delays, special needs, and/or autism are visual aids. These will help in routines, choice making, transitions, and general expression. The different types become increasingly more creative as we go, with the first being an actual system you can order, train staff in, and implement. This is by no means an exhaustive or extremely detailed description of the different visual aids you can use. This is simply a list to give you some ideas. For many of us in the autism field, these aids are part of our everyday vernacular. It would be amazing to see them used in preschools and daycare centers consistently!

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System)

Photo: Pyramid Educational Consultants/http://www.pecsusa.com

This is one of the most common forms of visual aids with regards to autism. It consists of a system of simple picture cards with a simple word or phrase. I have seen this system used as physical cards and on tablets and AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices. This system was developed by a PhD and a speech language pathologist, and it has a protocol that includes elements of ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis). The PECS system can be utilized with a number of conditions where the individual may have difficulty communicating. This is also probably the most expensive option, as the training manual alone could run you around $70 USD.

Labels

This one is definitely the simplest visual aid to include. If the child can read or is learning how to read, then simply labeling important items in the classroom (which many providers do to some extent already) can help the child navigate the classroom. These can also be used in conjunction with the next type.

Picture Icons

A picture I took of a client’s games that became one of her icons

These are a more detailed variation of the PECS idea, in the sense that you the provider/caregiver can easily make these yourself. Small pictures of everyday items (with labels if you choose) can go a long way with children who are non-verbal and may not have learned any signs yet. Ideally, you want to use pictures of the actual items that the child sees everyday, along with pictures of common places or activities. These can also be put together on a schedule board. Speaking of which…

Schedule Boards/Time Icons

There is often some form of a schedule board in a classroom, even if it’s mainly for the provider. Using picture icons to create a schedule for the child can help them anticipate what is coming up next in the day. Along with a board to put the activities and transitions in order, you can create “minute cards.” One of the first preschools I worked with created small cards with 3 and 1 minute increments on them (“3 more minutes,” “1 more minute”). They would show these cards to the children in the minutes leading to a transition/end of an activity. Even though the kids couldn’t always count the minutes, the cards were color coded as well (Ex: yellow for 3 minutes, and red for 1 minute). These cards made transitions easier for everyone.

Social Stories

In one of my previous positions, I was one of the go-to people if someone needed a social story. These simple stories can cover anything from a daily routine, to making friends or dealing with loss. I would often create them using Powerpoint and customize them to the child’s favorite characters or activities. Then, I would print them out in color and laminate them before binding it together into a makeshift book. One child who was nervous about going to preschool and making friends loved Pokemon, so I created a friends social story for her using Pokemon pictures. She loved it so much that she asked the Behavioral Interventionist to read it to her whole class, and it became part of the classroom library. Oh, and yes, she learned how to make friends!

A Few Tips

If you have access to a laminating machine, this can help seal the pictures and stories so that they last longer and are more durable.

Encourage parents and caregivers to use a similar system at home. They can take pictures of preferred and everyday items to keep on their phones or tablets. This way, there is a ready supply of visual aids to help them identify what the child may want or need.

Use the corresponding word or phrase associated with the picture so that the child starts to learn the word. For example, if you use a picture of their sippy cup, say “cup” when you hold up the picture.

Make sure you have their attention when using these aids. You may have to place it in front of them, or drop down to their eye level.

If you have other examples of visual aids you have used, please tell us about them in the comments! Next week, we will take a look at sensory aids!