What are "visuals"?

Do you often hear people suggest the use of “visuals, visual supports or timetables”? Does it leave you wondering what these are, what you do with them and ultimately will they help my child?

There is a lot to say on this topic so we will cover it over the next few blogs, but if you can’t wait, get in contact with us and we would love to answer your questions.

Firstly we need to work out what we want to use ‘visuals’ for.

Here are a few common uses:

  • For a child to communicate what he wants or doesn’t want

  • Telling a child what we are doing now, and in the future

  • Supporting a child to complete their daily routines independently

  • Enabling a child to make a choice

  • Supporting a child with a change in routine or a new experience

And now a few different types of visual supports


One type of visual support is an ‘object of reference’.  These supports may be miniatures’ of the information being given, for example a toy toothbrush when it’s time to brush teeth. They may be an item that is linked to an activity, item or location in some way. For example when asked to go to the bathroom, they may be given a plug from the sink. Or when asked to go to their bedroom, they may be given a piece of material that is the same as that on their duvet.  Objects can also be used to help the child understand what is happening next, or what they have been asked to do. They can also be used instead of photos for a child to request what they want. Objects of reference are really useful as an early visual support. When a child cannot understand lots of verbal instructions and does not look at photos or pictures and engages more with tactile, sensory items this may be a great starting point.


Pictures can be in many different formats. They can be photos – this are particularly helpful when children need specific information, or they find understanding ‘general’ pictures that represent what is being said difficult. Pictures can also be clip art, symbols, in colour, black or white or line drawings. The essential issue is what the child understands.  For many children at first they need specific, clearly printed large photos. Over time these can be made smaller and more general as the child’s understanding develops.



Written words are often useful visual supports for children. They can be typed in order for a child to communicate, they can be a written list to complete a daily routine such as getting dressed in the morning. They are really useful when you are out and about, for example writing down a sequence of events that may help a child understand what is happening next. 


Short video clips can help a child learn to complete a daily activity. They can increase social and play skills or support a child through a new experience such as having their hair cut. Videos are often very motivating for children and they may enjoy watching them. This is a great starting point but further teaching for the child to be able to use them functionally is often required.

Our next blog will cover how to use visuals and key points to remember. As always we would love to hear from you so please get in touch if you would like any further information.