Using Visual Aids

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

Some tips from Caroline Pringle, Families and Professionals Advisor (Child Enquiries)


Following on from my earlier blog I wanted to go into more detail about how much visual aids (also known as visual supports) can help your children and give predictability to their day. As I previously mentioned, I have access to Widgit symbols and would be happy to support you in making up resources to help your child cope. Your child’s school or their speech and language therapist may have helped you with this however, you may not at these difficult times be able to access resources easily. Many children with Fragile X struggle with transitions and due to the changes in their routine their anxiety levels may rise. It’s not easy to process the spoken word when you are anxious and visual aids can build up their confidence. I trust the following tips will be useful.

Object of Reference

Objects of reference are used to motivate a child and represent a daily activity e.g. a plate to indicate a meal or a shoe to indicate doing for a walk. However, this strategy may be beneficial to children who don’t normally use this resource, as it’s a method of explaining what’s happening next. Putting out a wooden spoon and mixing bowl for cooking or trowel and seeds for gardening is a good motivator and they can take these items to complete the activity with you.

Using symbols

Some of you may have access to photos or symbols such as PECS (picture exchange communication system). You may feel able to draw pictures to help your child. In addition, here are some links where you can access some more symbols:

Do2Learn Picture Cards

Twinkl Visual Timetable

I use Widgit symbols and have given you some examples in this article that may help your child.

Some children may still be using first and next boards so simple symbols will be of help:

Others will be able to cope with more details and their visual aids will be in the form of a planner. They may be used to a planner at school to act as a timetable of their learning activities but now you will be using a planner to give them certainty of the day ahead:

You may need to limit the number of items on a planner, otherwise it will be overwhelming. For some children just the choice of 2 things will be all they can cope with. Activities/tasks can be cut up separately and blutack or Velcro put on them so that they can be taken off the list once completed and put into a box or bag. Marcia Braden and Lisa Martin give examples of these as mentioned in my previous blog.

When activities are going to change to something your child is excited about, I find that the wait sign is useful. Also, a traffic light system of coloured paper/card can be helpful when trying to explain to them an imminent change e.g. amber gives the warning that an activity is about to finish, red the activity has stopped and green for new activity.

Another useful visual prompt at the present time would be to wash hands:

For some children, they cope well with the written word, so you may only need to use the occasional symbol. They can use a desk diary, or calendar to write down key things for the day and they might like to tick them off when completed.


Using symbols to represent the time or duration of an activity can be helpful so your child can see where an activity fits in their day. So often we say to a child in a minute, or later, and this can cause confusion so you might have to use visual representations of time. Perhaps they can cope with looking at a clock or you can use clock face symbols to indicate when a task will finish. A sand timer is another useful resource or showing them the digital time on an iPad, so they know when their screen time has to end.

Feelings and Emotions

Some children may be feeling very anxious at the moment and find it difficult to express how they feel. Visual resources such as emotion fans or basic emojis may help you start a conversation with them.

Easy Read Information

To cover questions that your children may be asking, easy to read information or social stories can help.

Easy Read: Easy Read booklet on coronavirus

Social story: Carol Gray Story about Pandemics and Coronavirus

Story books to help:

  • Inclusive Communication Essex have produced a storybook about Coronavirus

  • Nosy Crow have released a free information book explaining the coronavirus to children, illustrated by 'The Gruffalo' artist Axel Scheffler.

Whatever visual aids you use, your children will still need time and space to process what is going on in their day so don’t forget to have that quiet place for them to chill out in.

UPDATE 28 April 2020: Coronavirus Pandemic Widgit Symbols

I do hope the information has been of help and please contact me if I can help you further.

Click here for a print friendly version.

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