Visual communication systems helps individuals to understand their day and to express their needs more effectively

There are several visual systems which can are introduced and used by speech and language therapists with both children and adults who are experiencing difficulties understanding their daily routines and expressing their needs throughout the day.

What visual systems are there to choose from?

  • Visual timetables
  • Now and Next boards
  • First then boards
  • Choice boards
  • Key ring symbol systems
  • Recordable cards
  • Objects of reference

How do I know which system is most useful?

A speech and language therapist will help you to establish which system would be most useful to each individual.   It is extremely important  to understand the individuals motivators and indeed their priorities to communicate.  So for example do they wish to;

  • Make choices of activities
  • Follow a sequence of activities
  • Be independent in their community
  • Have a visual resource to aid memory

There are many reasons why visual communication systems may be useful to each individual.  It is important to assess their level of understanding in order to decide which visual symbols you present.

The speech and language therapist may indicate it is best to use:

  • Real objects e.g. the actual keys to represent going out in the car
  • A ‘representative object’ e.g.  a toy car
  • A raised symbol – e.g. a 2d shape on a card that feels like the item – e.g. half a cup stuck on a card
  • A photograph of the actual event – a photo of the individual in the car
  • A coloured drawing – such as Picture Communication System (PCS – Meyer Johnson)
  • A black and white drawing – as above
  • A line drawing – such as a Makaton symbol of a car
  • A sign – such as Makaton, Sign Supported English or British Sign Language
  • A written word
  • A recordable audio device
  • A video image

Each system will have a greater level of meaning for the individual and therefore it is important for a system to be selected based on a clear level of association from the client with the symbol/item/image being used.

Who uses visual communication systems?

Visual communication systems are by lots of different people, including those who have;

  • Learning Disability
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Down Syndrome
  • Rett Syndrome
  • Autistic Spectrum Conditions
  • Rare Syndromes
  • Had a Stroke or Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Degenerative diseases including Huntingdon’s disease, Dementia, Parkinson’s disease and Motor Neurone Disease
  • Head/Neck Cancer
  • Language impairment
  • Multi sensory impairment
  • Physical disabilities

What are visual timetables?

Visual timetables enable the individual to track what is going to be happening across a morning, an afternoon or the whole day.  They help to create structure, reduce confusion and anxiety and also outline what demands are being placed on them throughout the day.

For those individuals who do not cope well with change a visual timetable will help an individual adapt to the demands of the day.

What are now and next boards or first then boards?

These boards are used for individuals who need a greater level of breakdown, so that they can focus on one task at a time without being overwhelmed.  When using a now and next board, the now tends to be a work activity/demanding activity and the next is usually a reward/motivator.  Gradually individuals will be able to move onto a longer visual timetable, or they may need a now, next, next board or first, then, then board.

What are choice boards?

These are usually used when offering a motivator or when wanting to engage a individual in choice making.  You may find an individual can only cope with 2 choices to start with therefore these choices would be presented on either side of a choice board top left, bottom right – this will make sure they are visually scanning all the choices and will enable them to start to make a choice of 4 and gradually six, eight and so fourth.

What are key ring symbol systems?

These systems enable the individual to be more mobile with their visual communication system, they are often worn by care support workers, teaching assistant and parents to ensure the symbols are readily available to the individual to trigger their motivation to request something which they would like – e.g a symbol of a drink on a key fob.  They may also be used to aid the individuals level of understanding – showing a symbol of wash hands, prior to lunch.

What are recordable cards?

Aurecordable  card 3_12_largedio cards form a great visual and auditory communication system.  These cards enable the individual to follow an audio instructions and a visual prompt.  They also help those individuals who benefit from hearing a speech model to copy the word or retain the word.

Further information

You can find more detailed information about AAC and the current research here.

If you would like to speak to a Speech and Language Therapist about visual communication systems and want to book an initial assessment, please get in touch and we will offer you a free initial telephone consultation to discuss your needs.

Symbols taken from ©Special Direct 

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