Visual supports are aids such as objects of reference, photographs, symbols, signing and text which can be used with pupils with SEND to support spoken language. There is a developmental progression from concrete to abstract – e.g: real cup → photo of real cup → symbol of cup → the word ‘cup’. Your choice of visuals (objects/photos/ symbols/ words) should match the pupil’s level of understanding.
They are beneficial for the following reasons:
- They can be used as a communication aid to develop a pupil’s expressive skills and spontaneous interaction.
- They are permanent.
- They are a constant visual reminder – useful for children who may take longer to process verbal language.
- They do not require the pupil to remember verbal instructions.
- They can help a pupil to predict what will happen and prepare for any changes ahead of time.
- They can promote independent working.
- They can motivate appropriate behaviour.
How to use visual supports with pupils
Pupils with limited communication skills need some way to help them express themselves. A Communication Book contains photos, symbols or text to help the pupil develop their expressive skills.
Making choices can be hard for pupils with SEND. Giving them a limited choice shown visually will help them maintain focus. Choices must be realistic and match the pupil’s level of understanding. Think about using choice boards at snack time, break time, wet play time or give a choice of reward when work has been completed.
For EYFS children, using a choice board can help to structure freeflow.
- For more information see Using choosing boards
First and then
A ‘First….then’ board (sometimes called ‘Now and Next’) helps a student to become aware of the basic sequence of activities during their day and shows him/her what will happen next. It can also be used to show the student that a preferred activity (one that they will find motivating) will happen, but after something else: e.g. “First work, then snack”. It is a good idea to point at the symbols and talk the student through the ‘First , then…’ sequence of activities. The board can then be placed near them so that they can refer to it.
Although simple, this strategy can be an effective tool to help with behaviour management when a pupil is finding it hard to follow instructions.
- For more information, see using ‘First, Then’ boards
Timetables are another good way of helping to create structure and routine for children with SEND. This could be done for the whole class or individually, as long as the focus child knows where to see it. However it needs to be kept up to date and reflect changes to the normal routine when they occur.