Visual supports

What is visual support? 

Visual supports are visual items used to support communication skills. They include pictures, symbols, objects, gestures or actions, signs and written words (just to name a few).  

Imagine you are putting together a tricky bit of furniture. To help you put it together, you might look at symbols showing what tools you need and diagrams showing how everything slots together. You might also read the instructions and watch a video online to see how to do it. These are all examples of visual support- things we can look at to help us understand.  

We find visual supports helpful and so do children, especially if they have challenges with learning to talk and understand words. 

Why is visual support helpful?  

When we talk, the words we say disappear instantly! Visual supports last for a much longer time. When we use visual support at the same time as talking, we give children extra time to understand, prepare for change, and think about how to respond. Visual supports can also help children communicate – for example, children can point at which snack they want to eat from a choice of two.   

Will visuals stop a child talking? 

No, visual support will not stop children talking. Visual support can make communicating easier and more successful, and can reduce children’s frustration.  

What are some different types of visual support and how can I use them to help children I work with? 

Real objects 

Help children’s understanding by showing them as well as telling them. For example, hold up an apron at the same time as saying “apron on”. Point to the door at the same time as saying “time to go outside”.  

You can also give children a choice between two real objects to help them communicate. Hold up two things for a child to choose between, such as ‘apple or cracker?’ at snack time, or ‘wellies or shoes?’ before heading off to the park.   

Gestures, actions and body language 

We often use gestures and body language like nodding our heads or shrugging our shoulders when we talk. From a young age, babies learn to point to tell us what they want.  

Using gestures, actions and body language gives children an extra clue about what we are saying. For example, we could spread our arms wide to talk about a ‘huge animal’. Children can also use gestures and actions to help them communicate their needs. 


There are lots of examples of signing systems that can be used to support communication skills, such as Makaton and Signalong. You may have a particular signing system that your setting uses. Using signs at the same time as talking helps children understand the words you are saying, and can also help children to communicate.  

Visual timetables 

A visual timetable or timeline is a series of pictures, symbols, or photos that show a child’s routine. They can help children to understand their routine and prepare them for change.  


Use pictures, symbols, or photos to label where resources are in your setting. This can help children get what they need by themselves and it may even help them tidy up too! 

How do I choose between photos, pictures, and symbols? 

You may hear people talking about some visuals being easier to understand than others. However, all children are different, and the most important thing is to choose visual supports that work for the children you are working with. Think about using visuals that are easy to understand, clear, and interesting to look at. Also choose visuals that are easy for you to make and use in your setting.