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I know you're thinking "bloody speech therapists - they just waltz into our nursery and say 'try visual supports' and then waltz out again." But you know what? Visual supports can really help children with SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Needs) especially these children:

  • children on the autistic spectrum
  • children with no verbal understanding
  • children with poor attention and listening skills
  • children for whom English is a second language

Picture the scene (this has happened in several places I have visited) Little Johnny is playing quite happily in the ball pool. His keyworker would like him to come over for snack but he ignores her and carries on playing. She takes him by the hand gently to encourage him to come. He has a meltdown and throws himself to the floor. Then he sees the snack trolly being wheeled into the room and he gets up and goes over to the snack table.

What happened there? When the keyworker gave him the spoken instruction, he didn't hear or listen or understand. When she tried to take him to his snack (which she knows he likes) he resisted because a) he was happy playing and b) he didn't know if he was ever going to play in the ball pit again! Finally, when he saw the visual clue of the snack trolley, he knew what was happening and came over to the snack table.

So, it would make sense then to cut out the middleman (the meltdown on the floor) and use the visual support in the first place.

Very often the reason I've been asked to come into a setting is because the staff is having issues with a child's behaviour.  It's not just that we're going in willy nilly and saying "just stick visuals in." We recommend them if  they're having problems understanding what's going on around them. So, these are my 3 top uses for visual supports and for the scenario I've just described, I'd use the first one:

  • First X then Y

This can be really helpful for those children that are perhaps pre-verbal. So I would use something like this handy pdf and I would say first snack then cars."  You can see I would use  very very simple language because if I say something like "you can get to play with the cars again Jack but first of all you have to come for snack." then all hell's going to break loose because little Jack just heard the word "cars" so that's all he wants!  You could also say things like "first wash hands then snack" or if little Jack wants to go outside and it's minus five and he needs to put a coat on but he's just heading straight outside you can say "first coat on then outside" and that can be really really helpful for him to see what he has to do and hear the language in the right context.

  • Would you like X or Y?

I know a lot of settings are very free play and we're all about following the child's lead which is great for the majority of children but for that one child that perhaps gets stuck lying on the floor playing with the trains we perhaps want to encourage him to be doing other activities and we can do that by forced choice. So we would have two pictures and we would say "do you want to play in the sand or play outside" and we're giving him the choice. You'll note, we're kind of saying you have to play in the sand or play outside but you get a choice and that can often help a child transition from one activity to the next.

  • These are the activities I'd like you to do (TEACCH-style approach)

Strategy number three is using a visual timetable - this can be very helpful when you're doing one-to-one work with a child. I recommend looking up TEACCH. It's a strategy used for children on the autistic spectrum but as I said before, it would be very good for the children who find it very hard to sit and to participate in adult-led activities. I know we are in a very child-centered cycle (you know what I mean, until the next theory comes along to say we shouldn't be) but at some stage in a child's life they'll have to move on to being a little bit more adult-directed activities. You have a set up like this:

A box or tray is on the left-hand side of the child with the activities you wish the child to complete. An empty "finished" tray is on the right-hand side of the child.

To start with, or for children with short attention spans, you may only have 3 mega-short activities. A peg-board with only 3-5 pegs, a pice of A4 paper that needs 2 line marks on it and an inset puzzle with only two pieces. As a child gets used to the fact that they can see what they have to complete, they will be able to sit for longer and longer. You may want to have a reward that they really like, such as short use of the iPad. 




"I don't have the symbol I need at the time" Solution: Have a small white board and marker. If you suddenly think I haven't got the symbol to go into the park you can quickly draw a tree and show them.

"I don't have time to make all the symbols" Solution: Just spend time making those symbols in the short term so you can then keep them for subsequent children. Or if you would prefer to buy some ready made, I love the look of these, made by kidzcalendars

"He doesn't use the timetable." Solution: Help him to understand how to use it. How would you feel if I took away your diary or daily "to do" list? It makes me feel stressed if I have mis-laid my diary as I don't know what's happening. This is the same for some of our children. Above all, remember a relaxed child is a happy child!

Remember to head over to my facebook page to let me know if you use visual supports in your setting and share your top tips too. And to get my blog and free PDFs directly into your inbox, so you don't miss out, subscribe here.