Top 5 Reasons to Use And Keep Using Visuals For Students With Special Needs
I find myself asking repeatedly where is “student’s name” visual schedule? A common answer is “Oh she doesn’t need it anymore.” I have to challenge this. I am happy that this child has learned the classroom routine, and yes once established it does not change very often…But it does and just because they have learned the classroom routine does not mean they no longer have the deficits that a visual schedule benefited in the first place.
Why do I recommend a visual schedule in the first place? Why do I recommend that you continue to use it?
- It is static. A system of pictures, pictures and text does not change. It is consistent and predictable. A child knows what the snack picture looks like and that it means after gym I get my snack. Language is temporary. Children have to be able to attend and process what you are saying, hold it in their memory and access it when it is needed. Much like you and I will identify in the morning that we are running low on milk. We identify it, put it on our list (visual aid) and file it away on our iphone or in our purse so that we can access it later when we need it.
- Increases independence. Our goal is to make our students with different abilities as independent and successful as possible. If they have been using their visual schedule throughout the year they will be able to reference it themselves without a prompt making them independent in managing their schedule.
- Facilitates change. If there is going to be a change in routine the visual schedule can be used to show the student, things are a little different today. A special symbol can be used to indicate that there is going to be a change. Instead of gym we are going to go outside. The student can more easily process this new information when presented visually and knows that it is temporary.
- Reduces overwhelm. Children with special needs often are dealing with sensory processing difficulties. Their nervous system is already working hard to maintain a calm and organized state without having to add the processing of verbal information. The noise in the classroom may be too loud, the lights too bright and the demands of sitting in their desk too much. When they are dealing with all of that having a consistent and easy to use visual schedule makes their day that much easier to manage.
- Promotes language. Many think that the use of visuals will prevent a non- verbal child from speaking. Research has shown that when visuals are paired with language it may help with speech production. Anderson, A, Moore, D & Bourne, T. (2007). Functional Communication and Other Concomitant Behavior Change Following PECS Training: A Case Study. Behaviour Change, 24, 1–8.
How to start
A visual schedule is simply made of pictures. You can use pictures you already have. Take pictures and print them. Use google images. That can be time consuming. I like to make things as easy as possible. I have put together a Free resource for visuals, see the form below. You can also find some that are ready to go such as Easy Daysies. These are very cute and functional for home. They also have add ons for activities, bathroom, family, kindergarten , grades1-7, and grades 1-7 french.
Something I haven’t tried, but really intrigues me is the new photo printers that you can print straight from your phone. I am creating visuals all the time and this may really speed up the process. No more uploading photos, sizing and printing. You just take the photo and print, visual done! When I break down and purchase one of these bad boys I will post a review here. I could also use it for scrapbooking and adding pictures to my passion planner. (Can you tell I am tallying up the reasons why I need to get one!!)
The tool that I cannot live without is a laminator. These have come a long way! It used to be this huge tool at the school and you had to have something pretty special if you wanted it laminated. Now you can get one for around $30 and laminate to your hearts content. It can sit on your workstation and you just buy packs of the laminating sheets. You don’t want to waste all that hard work you put into your visuals, so laminate them and they will last a lot longer!!
How do you set it up?
In therapy I use a simple chart with empty squares with Velcro on the squares and Velcro on the back of the picture. I choose what we are going to be using in therapy that day and put a picture of each task up on the schedule. The child or therapist can move the activity over when it is done. Being able to move the picture over to the done side helps the child to feel accomplished. Be mindful of how many things you put on the schedule. 5 items may be too much for some children and you may have to reduce to 3. Looking at all those things on the schedule can be overwhelming.
What if they don’t like what is on the schedule? In this situation you may use the first then strategy.
First then strategy. You have two items on the card. The first item may not be their favourite activity but you know the second one is. Present the card to the child with the instructions “First (less preferred activity) then (preferred activity). This helps to motivate children to do something that may not be preferred or is a little more difficult for them because they know they get to do their favourite activity right away.
In the morning instead of nagging at your children, set up a visual schedule of their morning routine. Eat breakfast, brush your teeth, get dressed, pack your backpack, get on your coat, head out for the bus. This is great for increasing independence and helping kids that get distracted! It also helps you to nag less! If they still have trouble staying on task. (You find them in the bedroom playing with toys instead of getting dressed). Try a Time Timer. Children don’t understand the passage of time. A visual timer like the time timer gives them a visual of time going away. A kitchen timer or egg timer going off after you’ve told them 5 minutes still doesn’t help them transition because they don’t know the difference between 5 minutes and 5 seconds and they are now upset that they have to quit playing and get dressed.
Where do I find visuals?
It is always a struggle to find good quality resources. I have compiled a list of the Top 5 Free Resources For Visuals. These resources have tons of printables already created that you can just print and use.
Other kinds of visuals
Countdown calendars– Daddy is going away for 3 days. Your child is very upset, especially since they have a hard time grasping verbal language. So you tell them Daddy will be back in 3 sleeps but they seem to forget instantly. Create a calendar or just a week at a glance. Put three pictures of a pillow or something that represents sleep and then on the 4th day a picture of Daddy!! 3 sleeps and Daddy will be home. Let your child remove the sleeps every morning and they will have a visual reminder of when Daddy is going to be home and it will help to reduce some of the anxiety and repeated questioning.
Picture cards on a ring– For children that have a hard time with transitions, or you want a quick way to communicate with them, some parents or Educational assistants in the classroom like to have commonly used visuals on a ring that they keep with them. Put them on a key ring that you can attach to your pants or a lanyard that you wear.
There are so many ways to use visuals. They help everyone stay on track. They reduce the chance of the message being lost for kids that need extra time to process instructions, they are portable and technology makes it easier to create every day. I use visuals every day, from reminders on my iPhone to the plans and goals that I write in my planner. Visuals make life so much easier for me so why not use them to make life easier for our kids too!!
If you want more resources and ideas like my Pinterest and Facebook pages. I am actively posting new things there every day.
If you have other resources for visuals I would love to hear them! Comment with your resources or questions.