Visual support for children

Visual Supports For The Special Education Classroom

Visual Supports

task cards

Visual supports are all around us in our daily lives.  A shopping list, a calendar to write down appointments or plans, signs to tell us where to go, a recipe, or a to-do list. Verbal or auditory information is said and then is gone.  It is temporary. Using visual systems, such as those listed above, allow for information to be present as long as we need it.  If we use visual supports as adults, why can’t students?  

Classroom Uses

To assist those who struggle with understanding or expressing language, visual supports can be used. You can use objects, photographs, drawings, or written words. Because of this variety, visual supports are easy to modify to meet the individual needs of learners.  

Visual supports can help students learn new skills, know what to do, and to help them feel included. Visual supports using pictures or drawings to label the classroom can promote independence in children. They know where to find things and where to put items away. They can also be used to support behavior needs. When students know what is expected or know what to do, behavior issues may reduce.

Researchers have determined that visual supports help create independence and are beneficial to children with special needs, specifically autism. These authors indicated that visual supports help by: 

  • Allowing students to focus
  • Making abstract concepts more visually concrete
  • Allowing students to express their thoughts
  • Bringing routine, structure, and sequence
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Serving as a tool to assist with transitions

Types of Visual Aids

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

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

Schedule: A visual schedule lets the student know what is coming next. It can show the whole day or chunks of time. Again, the format may vary from objects to words. Another type of schedule is a first-then board. This is used to typically show a non-preferred activity is completed first, then a preferred activity can be done. It also lays the foundation to follow multi-step directions.


Communication: To increase communication skills, a non-tech or low-tech way to do this is to use a communication board. Students can be taught vocabulary and phrases in order to express their wants and needs. However, students must be taught how to use the picture board. Boardmaker is a well-known program used in making communication boards. While it is quite extensive and versatile, it is also costly.


There are many websites that have ready-made guides and printable boards for visual aids to use in the classroom or home. Here are a few:

  • This site has many ready-made visuals which are easy to print and use.
  • This site has pictures to download and lots of resources.
  • Here you can learn about communication apps and other educations tools like Boardmaker.

As educators, we tend to think of visual supports for students with disabilities. However, all students can benefit using visual supports in the classroom.

Author: Tina Gonzalez

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