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How Do Visual Aids Help Special Needs Kids?

by Christen Robinson

Stop signs, warning labels and parking spaces are just a few of the many visual cues in our world. They keep us safe by defining rules and expectations. Like adults, children need visuals to understand the world -- this is particularly true of children with special needs. Add intentional visual supports to your home environment to help your child experience success.

Schedules and Transitions

Many children with special needs have difficulty transitioning between activities. A visual schedule can assist with transitions by showing your child what to expect each day. Create pictures of the daily activities in your home -- brush teeth, eat breakfast, get dressed, play outside or go to the store. Take photographs, draw pictures or use the computer to search for images. The important thing is that your child understands what each picture represents. Consider mounting the pictures to magnets or Velcro. This will allow you to move them around as needed. Refer to the schedule throughout the day. "Look, after you take a bath, you get to read stories!" If your child has difficulty with changes in her routine, make a picture to warn her that a new activity is coming. Put it on the schedule and discuss it with her. This will allow your child to anticipate and prepare for deviations in her expected routine.

Safety

Use visual cues and supports to address potential safety concerns in your home. Make stop signs out of paper and use them to designate areas that are off-limits to your child. If you do not want your child opening certain doors on his own, attach a stop sign to the door. Teach your child the meaning of the sign each time he attempts to open the door. "That sign says, stop. Please do not open the door." Use words and pictures to explain safe behavior during a trip to the grocery store. Write your rules for the trip -- stay close to mom or dad, hold hands in the parking lot or use an inside voice, and add pictures to illustrate each rule. Review the rules and pictures before entering the grocery store and during the trip if needed.

Communication

Communication can be an area of concern for many children with special needs. If your child has difficulty expressing herself verbally, consider adding visual supports to facilitate communication. If your child usually pulls you to the kitchen or simply gestures when she is hungry, consider posting a picture menu of her favorite snack items somewhere in the kitchen. Encourage her to point to the picture of the item she wants. Or to increase communication during meals, make your child a placemat for the table. Cover the placemat with pictures of frequently used items and phrases -- salt, pepper, ketchup, napkin, more, all done, please and thank you. Laminate the place mat to keep it waterproof and durable.

Social Skills

There are many different ways to play with play dough.

Navigating the rules of our social world can be difficult for some children with special needs. Help your child understand social rules with a variety of visual supports. Social stories describe social situations in a positive way to help your child understand what is expected. If your child is experiencing difficulty with a particular event, consider writing and illustrating your own social story to help him. If your child has difficulty engaging in typical play activities, take or draw pictures of different ways to play. If your child does not play with blocks appropriately, give him pictures of kids using blocks to build castles, roads, houses or zoos. Or give him pictures of different ways to play with play dough -- roll it like a snake, pat it flat, make a ball or use a cookie cutter. Sit with your child and model the play yourself, referring to the visuals as appropriate.

About the Author

Christen Robinson has been writing educational content and materials since 2004. She also writes for eHow, Answerbag and Education.com. Robinson teaches special education, and specializes in working with children with autism. She holds a master's degree in teaching from Central Washington University.

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