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How to make and use a visual support system

How to make and use a visual support system for developing communicators

1.      Traffic lights cards

  • 3 discs of coloured card, 8 to 10 cm diameter
  • 1 yellow (not orange, this does not contrast sufficiently well with the red)
  • 1 red
  • 1 green
  • On an extendible key ring, attached to your waist

All the adults who will talk to the target child must have these on their waist bands all day long. They must all be completely familiar with the instructions for using the traffic lights.

2.      A Now Board

  • This must be big enough to be obvious, at least A4 size
  • We want the symbols to adhere to it noiselessly and reliably, so preferably it will be magnetic
  • It must have a permanent place to be displayed in the classroom, but it must be detachable so it can be taken to the child’s eyes as we cannot expect that s/he will move his/her visual focus.

3.   An  "adult's voice box" = a vocabulary of symbols

  • Used by the adult to teach the child the meanings of frequently used instructions/ activities
  • All symbols should have magnetic strip on the back to attach them to the now board
  • It must be stored in such a way that the adult has no difficulty finding the symbol required at the right time, but that it is not accessible to the child
  • It must be constantly checked (e.g. every day at 3.30pm) so the adult talking to the child knows that it contains the required vocabulary
  • The difficult part is to have the pictures you need available, but not too many pictures, so you can't find the relevant one.
  • As a rule of thumb, every activity that you expect the child to comply with by a recognisable set of behaviours, should have a picture in the adult's voice box, e.g. snack, toilet, outside, wash hands, story, singing, numeracy, assembly, lunch, PE, toys/ choosing, writing….

4.      A finished box

  • This should be big enough to post pictures in and retrieve them easily
  • It should never be see through. Once the symbol is in the finished box, we don’t want to draw the child's attention to it further. We are moving our focus of attention on to the picture we are putting on the now board.
  • Stress the ritual of removing the picture from the now board and posting it. This builds understanding that a word can be used to refer to the absence of something as well as to its presence. This is a crucial characteristic of verbal language.

How to use visual support

 1.     Think and plan ahead

The adults using the system must know exactly what it can do and how they are going to do it.

The adult needs to know what is going to happen, so they are prepared with the right pictures. The teacher and TA need to have frequent and regular planning sessions to make the vocabulary relevant to the classroom routine.

2.    Allow time

Children using visual support need time to move from 1 activity to the next. Therefore you need to start the transition before the rest of the children in the class. The adult needs to know exactly what she wants the child to do.

e.g. if he is currently directing his own time with a highly preferred green pen at the table, but shortly needs to answer his name in the register, the adult needs her traffic lights cards, now board with picture of register and finished box.

  • She puts yellow on the green pen and says "drawing is nearly finished"
  • red on the pen "drawing is finished", removing the pen or posting it in the finished box
  • Green on the registration symbol and puts it on the now board and says "registration is starting" and supports the child in moving from the table to the carpet where he will participate in registration.
  • The more times this activity is practised, the less adult support we will need to facilitate the transition. This is because the child's verbal comprehension and social cooperation will be building and therefore his dependence on adult facilitation will diminish.

 3.      Be consistent

All the adults need to use the same pictures and words. They must be kept in the same place so there’s no hanging around and muddle.

The reason we need visual support is because the child has problems with attention and comprehension, therefore the system must never be distracting or muddling.

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