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Using Visual Aids

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

My original blog on visual aids was written during lockdown to support families at home. I have now updated it and added some more information.

Caroline Pringle, Families and Professionals Advisor (Child Enquiries)

Originally published April 2020, revised March 2022


Visual aids (also known as visual supports) can help your child and give predictability to their day. Your child’s school or their speech and language therapist may help or provide you with these resources but as I have access to Widgit symbols I can also support you with making up resources to meet your child's needs. 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 going for a walk. However, this strategy can 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:

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 (please note that they are also called first and then boards):

Others will be able to cope with more details and their visual aids will be in the form of a planner or schedules. They may be used to a planner at school to act as a timetable of their learning activities as it gives them certainty of the day ahead. Continuing to use a planner before and after the school day, at weekends and school holidays will really give them structure.

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 gives some good tips for visual schedules.

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.

Visual prompts can be useful for a variety of activities/reasons; perhaps the use of just one card, such as the wait card (previously mentioned) or cards used to support a child to express they need help, or are experiencing sensory overload e.g. finding somewhere too noisy.

In addition, a visual aid can be a reminder: here are two examples:

  • Things to remember to pack in a school bag

  • How to stay calm in tricky situations

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

Children with fragile x can experience high levels of anxiety 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.

You can put these emotion fans onto a stretchy key ring to attach to a belt loop or school bag. The above emotion fans are examples from Widgit and Sparkle Box.

Easy Read Information

Easy to read information is a way of presenting material using simple words and short sentences, and with pictures. An example of this is our easy read 'I have Fragile X Syndrome'

Books Beyond Words is another good resource using wordless pictures to allow the reader to tell their own story about a situation. Some books are free to download and other books can be purchased to cover situations such as going to the dentist, making friends and a day on the beach.

Social Story

Social stories can be used to give clear information about people, events and situations and to introduce a new experience. It puts your child in the situation rather than a general story and is a discussion tool to help them in everyday events. Social stories explain one situation at a time. For some children using photographs or symbols will give more meaning to the story and this will then progress on to them using a written social story perhaps keeping some symbols.

The concept of these stories and a specific format originally came from an educationalist in the States called Carol Grey and was used to help young people with ASD cope in social situations. Please see the two blogs that cover social stories in more detail.

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.

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


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