The Au-some A-Squad | There's A Visual For That | Written by Megan Elizabeth

Have you ever heard the saying, “there’s an app for that”. Well, in our house, we have a similar saying- “there’s a visual for that”. Every room in my house is covered in visuals! We have visual schedules, labels, and task analysis steps. These visuals help my boys learn independent skills, follow routines, and increase their AAC language development.

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Feeling overwhelmed yet? Don’t worry- so was I!

Let me take you back a few years ago, when I had ZERO visuals in my home. I went down to our school district to meet my boys’ new special education teacher and new speech therapist. As we were discussing goals for the boys and how we wanted their school year to go, the speech therapist turned to me and asked what kind of visual supports I used in the home for the boys.

I just stared at her.

Visual supports? Why? For what?

They started to discuss in detail the benefits of using visual supports and how they could help the boys with their language development and their ability to carry on tasks in the home independently. By the end of the conversation, I still wasn’t 100% sold. It wasn’t because I didn’t trust them, it was because I didn’t even know where to start or what kinds of areas to focus on. I felt the boys understood my verbal directions just fine, and therefore, visual supports weren’t needed. While I was fully aware that the boys were nonverbal and used pictures to communicate with me, I didn’t understand why I needed to use pictures to communicate back with them.

Here we are, a few years later, and everywhere you look in my house, there is a visual. What changed? My attitude and my perception of what visuals could do for our family. I learned that taking a task (like teeth brushing) could be broken down into visual steps for the boys and I would no longer have to keep repeating directions night after night. I learned that a visual schedule could help cut down on anxiety for the boys. Finally, I learned that visual labels around the house would allow the boys to obtain items/follow directions with greater independence.

Most importantly, though, I realized that visuals are an amazing tool to use in addition to my verbal directions and statements. They allow the boys to hear my words and pair them with a visual picture. Having labels and visuals around the house gives the boys more exposure to THEIR vocabulary, which for the time being is AAC.

So how does one even get started with using visual supports in the home? For me, the biggest struggle was where to start. I finally made the decision to just dive in and start with a project that seemed simple. The first thing I did was label anything and everything in my house. The television, refrigerator, microwave, sink… you name it. They all had labels! In the kitchen I had pictures for all of the boys’ favorite foods and drinks, and I labeled the cupboard doors with what items were in each (cups, plates, bowls, etc.). I’m sure it sounds like a lot, but it allowed the boys to make that instant connection between an actual item and the word/symbol that represented it. For visual learners, this is such an important tool!

Then I moved on to a visual schedule. I knew summer was approaching, and our schedule gets a little more crazy during that time with all of the boys’ different therapies and recreational activities. I printed off pictures for every therapist, activity, and place we frequented. White boards, magnets, and my laminating machine came in handy! The boys each got their own schedule and I put up all the extra pieces that didn’t apply to a given week on the side of the refrigerator. This gave the boys the ability to ask for certain places by showing me the photo of it (like the swimming pool for example). **Full disclosure: I was inspired to make these schedules after seeing similar ones another autism mom shared on Facebook.

Once I started getting more comfortable with visuals and how to use them with the boys, I looked at tasks that I wanted to increase the boys’ independence with. I broke these tasks down into little steps and created visuals that the boys could follow on their own. This works great for things like hand washing, brushing teeth, using the toilet, etc. You can also use this same idea to help with routines in your home, like bedtime routine, morning routine, getting ready for school, etc.

Another idea that can help aide in language development for an AAC user is to print off pages that match the folders in their communication program. As an example, you could open up their food folder and take a screen shot of it and then print it off to display in your kitchen. Not only does it give the child more exposure to their vocab, but it also provides you with a low-tech option in case the speech device/iPad is not available or not working properly (and let’s all cross our fingers right now that we NEVER encounter that!).

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As you can see, visual can be used in your home in so many different ways and they can really help all individuals, regardless of their communication level. The hardest part is always getting started, and I hope that some of these ideas will give you inspiration on how you could start in your home!

Happy laminating!!

A few ideas on how to obtain visuals for your home:

1) If your child is currently working with a speech therapist or special education teacher, many times they can be a great resource and help provide you with visuals to get started! This can be extremely beneficial if they are using visuals with your child too because it can help maintain a level of consistency between different environments. So many of our visuals were inspired by ideas I got from our team of teachers/therapists!

2) Sometimes a simple Google search can provide you with free pictures that can be used for basic labels around your house. This can be a great way to get started!

3) There are sites online that can provide you with endless symbols and templates to help you create schedules and task analysis breakdowns. My personal favorite is Boardmaker Online! A small monthly subscription fee gives you full access to create as many visuals as you want/need and gives you access to tons of awesome visuals created by other therapists/teachers/parents.

Megan Elizabeth