Classroom teacher uses visual supports with class.

7 Reasons to Use Visual Supports in the Early Childhood ESE Classroom

Visual Supports Assist Young Students in Comprehending Their Environment

Students with language delays often have difficulty understanding and processing verbal language. A picture rich classroom environment can ease anxiety, empower students and help them build social skills.

While it takes some effort up front for teachers to build a visual rich classroom, the payoff is definitely worth it.

Here are 7 reasons to bring visuals into the early childhood classroom:

  1. A lanyard with visual supports to use in a classroom or therapy room as a management tool.

    A lanyard with visual supports to use in a classroom or therapy room as a management tool.
    Photo from

    Establish routines
    Having a classroom schedule in picture format helps emergent readers to navigate their day.  Students can begin to anticipate the next part of the day.

    Once they learn the routine, many students want to help in sequencing through the pictures as the day progresses.

  2. Set Clear Expectations
    Students can understand what is expected of them if they have a visual reference of the classroom rules.
  3. Support Smooth Activity Transitions
    Transitions can be difficult for young students, especially for students with delays. If a student is having difficulty with a certain transition a picture cue can be a big help.A student not wanting to transition to pick up breakfast but enjoys drinking the juice he gets from the cafeteria, responds immediately upon seeing the picture of the juice.

    Once the picture prompt is presented it can greatly reduce the time it takes to transition.  Showing a student a picture of the therapist coming to work with him helps the student prepare to leave the group.

    Showing a visual to indicate a special event – a school bus for a field trip, a camera for picture day- will help students prepare for a change in their routine and can also help ease their anxiety.

  4. Reinforce Desired Behavior
    First/Then picture prompts can help students with transitions as well as reinforcing desired behaviors. If a student refuses to participate in a structured activity, a first/then board can be used to show the student that if they do the first task then they will be able to do the next activity.By seeing and following a visual representation of “first Circle Time”, “then playdough” a student is building their receptive language while also working on their independent functioning skills.

    Creating a visual support schedule will bring order, quiet, and structure.

    Creating a visual support schedule will bring order, quiet, and structure.
    Photo credit:

  5. Demonstrate Requests
    Students can build both their verbal and non-verbal expressive communication through the use of visual supports when making requests.The action of giving a card to get something in return is a powerful cause and effect skill builder.  Pictures of foods and favorite toys or objects is a great way to start using a picture exchange system.
  6. Simplify Decision-Making
    Presenting pictures when students are making choices simplifies information that the student is receiving. It is also a way to encourage expressive language from early learners.A choice board is often used when planning for Center Time activities.  It focuses the students’ attention and gives them the opportunity to work on beginning planning skills.
  7. Build Social Skills
    Visual supports are a powerful tool for building social skills. Problem solving prompts, turn taking cues, and social stories will assist students in building self-regulation/calming skills and feeling identification.

Often a picture prompt is better received than continual auditory only commands.  When presenting visuals to students be sure to give extra processing time. Processing time is important, especially in the beginning when it is new to the student.

Visuals will ultimately help to build a student’s autonomy as well as their expressive and receptive language skills.  Include simple auditory messages when presenting visuals to increase a student’s cognitive understanding.



Breitfelder, L. M. (2008). Quick and Easy Adaptations and Accommodations for Early Childhood Students. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus4(5),

Moody, A. K. (2012). Family Connections: Visual Supports for Promoting Social Skills in Young Children–A Family Perspective. Childhood Education88(3), 191-194.

Simpson, L. A., & Oh, K. (2013). Using Circle Time Books to Increase Participation in the Morning Circle Routine. TEACHING Exceptional Children45(6), 30-36.