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What Are Visuals?

We all use visuals to help us navigate our day. We can avoid accidents while driving by stopping at a "STOP" sign. We remember what to buy at the grocery store by making a shopping list and locating the matching item to the list (looking at labels). A public washroom sign is a great relief when nature calls at a hockey game. Of all the information transmitted to the brain - "90% is visual".

Taking advantage of how ASD children naturally prefer to communicate by using visual information helps to reduce their anxiety and frustration. Visual supports help a child understand a situation and increase a child's independence when a task or activity has been requested by a parent and or teacher.

Very young children or children who are functioning at a low developmental age may require "Objects of Reference" as a visual tool. Showing a child an object such as a favourite car and asking child "play car?" acts as a visual prompt to engaging in a play activity. This is how neurotypical babies and toddlers learn verbal language and put meaning to different activities.

As children develop, other visual supports can be introduced that provide a way for them to communicate their needs and make sense of the world around them. These can include symbols, coloured pictures, line drawings and photographs. The advantage of using symbols is the consistency and generalization of the visual that can be used to represent more than one specific object or activity. Symbols can be personalized to the needs of a child. Using a photograph which is definitely convenient may pose problems for a child if the object/activity of choice does not look exactly like the photograph. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tools (usually an iPad) are also available to help develop communication skills and can be provided under consultation with a Speech Language Pathologist. AAC devices use Core Board language symbols (high frequency words that we use).

Regardless of the type of visual support being used, consistent modelling, integration and availability must be provided to the child so they learn what the visuals mean. It is truly empowering for a child to have their wants and needs understood by those around them. Using visual supports provide a way for a child to participate more independently in their daily life activities and routines.

Lena Morrow

September 8, 2022

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