How to Improve Your Child’s Language and Communication With Visual Support

Research has shown that visual supports work well as a way to improve understanding and communication. Visual supports, such as pictures help children with language delays understand what is being [...]

Key takeaways:

  • Children with ASD are visual learners
  • Concrete objects, choice boards and visual schedules are some of examples of visual support that can make learning easier children with ASD
  • Simple visual supports work the best

Research has shown that visual supports work well as a way to improve understanding and communication. Visual supports, such as pictures help children with language delays understand what is being said to them. Lucia Kuah, SPD’s assistant senior EIPIC teacher explains what visual supports are and how they can help, especially for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What are visual supports?

Visual supports can be photographs, drawings, objects, written words or a list.

Why are visual supports so helpful for children with autism?

Visual supports are helpful for all children who are learning language, and particularly important for children with ASD.

Firstly, children with ASD are generally visual learners and they learn best by looking and watching, even for those who understand and have strong auditory processing skill. By using visual information to communicate, parents are leveraging their child’s strengths.

Secondly, processing language quickly is hard to do for some children with ASD. When information is presented visually, it can be there for as long as the child needs it.
This means that holding up a STOP sign when crossing the road can be more effective than just saying “STOP!” which may have to be repeated many times.

Will relying too much on visual supports prevent my child from using language?

On the contrary, research has shown that children use language more soon after their caregivers or teachers start using visual supports. Many parents and teachers would pair the visual supports with language. Some children may pick up words faster because they are hearing them alongside visuals that they are familiar with.

Types of Visual Supports for Young Children

  1. Concrete objects or toys to transit to daily routines (e.g. a favourite plate for meal times).
  2. Choice board to display available options.
    A choice board is used to help provide options for the child to choose. It can be used for activities, snacks or toys where more than one alternative is available. When the child is just starting out and learning to make choices, start with offering just two to three choices. When the child has learned to make choices often, you can begin to offer more choices. Over time, you can begin to use choice boards for making harder decisions such as picking out clothes or choosing the color of a marker for a craft activity.

    An example of a choice board.

  3. Visual schedules to show the steps of an activity.

    An example of a visual schedule.

  4. Visual countdown timers to show how much time the child has at an activity. This also helps the child understand the concept of time.
  5. Visual reward systems display what needs to be done or is expected of the child in order to gain a reward.
  6. Visual boundaries to demarcate where an activity should take place.
    For example, lay a mat to show the child that the area is meant for play.
  7. Work systems to show the sequence of what needs to be done through photos.

Tips for Success

  1. Simple and low-tech is usually best!
    A number of complex visual support systems are available commercially online, but there are also many that are simple to make at home and they work just as well. Visual schedule that are drawn on a piece of construction paper can be just as effective as one designed on a computer.
  2. Remember that training will be needed
    As with the introduction of any new concept, the child must be taught to use a visual support. The child must be shown the visual support and guided repeatedly on the steps of using it. Only then will the child begin to understand what is going to happen when the visual support is shown to him.
    If the child is not familiar with using a choice board, he may need to be prompted to point to an option. The child will then be given the option that he had pointed to. It will take practice before the child will begin to make a choice on his own.
  3. Be consistent
    Use the visual support in the same way each time, especially when parents are demonstrating what the visual support means for the first time.
  4. Pair with language but keep your language short and sweet
    One of the benefits of using visual supports is that the child could learn new words faster because language is paired with an easily understood visual image. For such pairing to be effective, use the smallest number of words necessary to describe the visual. For instance just say “FIRST tidy up, THEN outside” instead of “Please tidy up first, then we can go play outside.”


Meadan, H., Ostrosky, M. M., Triplett, B., Michna, A., & Fettig, A. (2011). Using Visual Supports with Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 43(6)
Visual Supports for Person with ASD. (2013, August 29). Retrieved from