SEN Resources: Visual Aids

Visual aids are a marvelous way to help children with additional needs. Many children are visual learners, and children who struggle with sensory overload find verbal prompts or reminders difficult to understand when they already have so much information being processed. A visual aid helps them to focus, to understand what is happening next, which behaviours are required of them and also allows them the opportunity to express what they are feeling or to ask for something they need.

This blog post is going to discuss various forms of visual aids which can be used to support learning, to help with routines and to aid children in expressing themselves.

Now, Next & Then Boards

These are particularly useful in supporting children who have autism or learning difficulties. The boards explain clearly what is happening now and in the near future. This can help to settle anxiety and help the child to understand that they need to, for example, wash their hands before having their lunch.

Visual Timetable

Visual timetables are an effective way for children to see exactly what is happening that day, or to help them develop independence in their daily routines (such as getting dressed). These can be used in class and also at home. They are particularly useful for days out or when there is a change in routine. Some visual timetables have each activity attached with Velcro so once the activity is finished, it is removed from the timetable. This helps to keep things simple and gives the child a visual reminder of how many activities are left to be completed.

As a child gets older, they may prefer not to use pictures or symbols as part of their timetable. Checklists are a useful transition tool and way for them to become more independent with appropriate support tools.

Emotional regulation & expression

Some children (particularly those on the autistic spectrum) may find it hard to express or recognize the feelings they are having. Most children with autism also struggle to understand facial expressions so visual aids are an important way for them to learn what other people are feeling and also for them to demonstrate what emotions they are experiencing.

Behaviour reminders

These are useful to have when out and about or in the classroom. The reminders can be kept on a keychain or lanyard, or in a pocket; anywhere easily accessable. They can be used to remind the child of which behaviours are ‘expected’ (such as standing nicely in a queue at the supermarket) and also contain other communication cards for the child to use when they are too overwhelmed to use verbal communication.

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System)

PECS is a widely used communication system.

“The Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS, allows people with little or no communication abilities to communicate using pictures. People using PECS are taught to approach another person and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange for that item. By doing so, the person is able to initiate communication. A child or adult with autism can use PECS to communicate a request, a thought, or anything that can reasonably be displayed or symbolized on a picture card. PECS works well in the home or in the classroom.  PECS was developed in 1984 by Lori Frost, MS, CCC/SLP and Dr. Andrew Bondy. It was first used at the Delaware Autistic Program. The goal of (PECS) is to teach children with autism a fast, self-initiating, functional communication system. PECS begins with the exchange of simple icons but rapidly builds “sentence” structure.” The National Autism Resources.com website

How to help our special needs children: Using Visual Aids

Visual aids are a marvelous way to help children with additional needs. Many children are visual learners, and children who struggle with sensory overload find verbal prompts or reminders difficult to understand when they already have so much information being processed. A visual aid helps them to focus, to understand what is happening next, which behaviours are required of them and also allows them the opportunity to express what they are feeling or to ask for something they need.

This blog post is going to discuss various forms of visual aids which can be used to support learning, to help with routines and to aid children in expressing themselves.

Now, Next & Then Boards

These are particularly useful in supporting children who have autism or learning difficulties. The boards explain clearly what is happening now and in the near future. This can help to settle anxiety and help the child to understand that they need to, for example, wash their hands before having their lunch.

Visual Timetable

Visual timetables are an effective way for children to see exactly what is happening that day, or to help them develop independence in their daily routines (such as getting dressed). These can be used in class and also at home. They are particularly useful for days out or when there is a change in routine. Some visual timetables have each activity attached with Velcro so once the activity is finished, it is removed from the timetable. This helps to keep things simple and gives the child a visual reminder of how many activities are left to be completed.

As a child gets older, they may prefer not to use pictures or symbols as part of their timetable. Checklists are a useful transition tool and way for them to become more independent with appropriate support tools.

Emotional regulation & expression

Some children (particularly those on the autistic spectrum) may find it hard to express or recognize the feelings they are having. Most children with autism also struggle to understand facial expressions so visual aids are an important way for them to learn what other people are feeling and also for them to demonstrate what emotions they are experiencing.

Behaviour reminders

These are useful to have when out and about or in the classroom. The reminders can be kept on a keychain or lanyard, or in a pocket; anywhere easily accessable. They can be used to remind the child of which behaviours are ‘expected’ (such as standing nicely in a queue at the supermarket) and also contain other communication cards for the child to use when they are too overwhelmed to use verbal communication.

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System)

PECS is a widely used communication system.

“The Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS, allows people with little or no communication abilities to communicate using pictures. People using PECS are taught to approach another person and give them a picture of a desired item in exchange for that item. By doing so, the person is able to initiate communication. A child or adult with autism can use PECS to communicate a request, a thought, or anything that can reasonably be displayed or symbolized on a picture card. PECS works well in the home or in the classroom.  PECS was developed in 1984 by Lori Frost, MS, CCC/SLP and Dr. Andrew Bondy. It was first used at the Delaware Autistic Program. The goal of (PECS) is to teach children with autism a fast, self-initiating, functional communication system. PECS begins with the exchange of simple icons but rapidly builds “sentence” structure.” The National Autism Resources.com website

What is a SENCO?

If you have a child with SEN (Special Educational Needs), you have probably been told at some point to speak to the SENCo at your school. Who are they and what do they actually do?

SENCo stands for ‘Special Educational Needs Coordinator’. All mainstream schools have to appoint a SENCo and they make sure that the school’s special needs policy is correctly implemented. They deal with children who have statements or EHCPs, as well as referring children to other services such as SALT (Speech and language therapy) or OT (Occupational Therapy).

The NAHT describes the responsibilities of the SENCo as follows:

The SENCo is responsible for the daily implementation of the SEN policy and the specific provisions made to support pupils with SEN including those with Education Health Care Plans. 

They should ensure the school keeps the records of all pupils with SEN up to date.

The SENCo will work with the head teacher and the governing body to ensure the school’s responsibilities are met under the Equality Act [2010] with reference to reasonable adjustments and access arrangements. They will also work with the head teacher and governing body to advise on the deployment of the school’s delegated budget, other resources, and the graduated approach to providing SEN support to ensure the needs of pupils are met.

The SENCo works closely with, and is a key point of contact for, parents, other educational establishments, educational psychologists, health and social care professionals and independent and voluntary bodies. They will be aware of the Local Offer and provision within it and must be able to work with other professionals to provide a supportive role to families to ensure pupils with SEN receive appropriate support and that the teaching is of a high standard. The SENCo will also liaise with possible providers of the next stage of education for a child with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and ensure both they, and their parents, are informed of options to plan a smooth transition.

The SENCo will provide professional guidance to colleagues and where looked-after children have SEN, the SENCo will liaise with the designated teacher”

The SENCo has to be a qualified teacher and within three years of being appointed, they will complete a master’s level qualification and receive the NASENCO- The National Award for SEN.

The SENCo is usually the first port of call for parents and carers of children with autism, and as part of this blog, we have interviewed the SENCo at a local primary school so that we can hear directly from them what the job entails and the training required.

© Peta Slaney, 2020, All Rights Reserved.

What is ASD?

ASD stands for Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

The ICD-11 is the most commonly used manual for autism diagnosis in the UK and it describes autism like this:

“A group of disorders characterized by qualitative abnormalities in reciprocal social interactions and in patterns of communication, and by a restricted, stereotyped, repetitive repertoire of interests and activities. These qualitative abnormalities are a pervasive feature of the individual’s functioning in all situations” ( IInternational Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision, 2016)

It puts childhood autism, Asperger syndrome, atypical autism and other pervasive delays under the same grouping. This is because all of these syndromes have a developmental delay that affects their social interaction and social communication. The other aspects of the developmental delay affects which diagnosis is received.

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, version 5) is not as commonly used in the UK, but the diagnostic criteria do appear a little easier to understand. As the ICD-10, it specifies the social interaction and social communication difficulties, as well as “restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour, activities or interests” (DSM-5, 2013).

So that all sounds quite complicated and a little wordy, what does it actually mean for us?

  • Social interaction :  lots of our children on the spectrum struggle with non-verbal communication. They don’t understand body language or facial expressions easily. This means it can be really hard for them to cope in social situations because  they are constantly trying to unlock the puzzle of what is being said to them, as well as being overwhelmed by all the ‘extra’ non-verbal information.
  • Social communication: this is language that is used in social situations (National Autistic Society, 2008) Our children may have delayed speech development, they may not understand when we speak to them, or they may use repetitive phrases and sentences that they have overhead (echolalia). They can also take idioms a bit literally: saying “It’s raining cats and dogs” has sent my son to the window on many an occasion.
  • Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests: Are any of your children obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, The Gruffalo, the colour red or anything else that is just the best thing ever in their world? Our children often have obsessions and they struggle with change. This means they may have the same fascination for many years, or they may like to walk the same route to school every day, or where the same colour pants on Saturdays.

There is another aspect to this as well, and it’s something that in recent years has really come to the front of studies in Autism: sensory issues.

For a long time, the diagnostic criteria for autism was the ‘Triad of Impairments’: social interaction, social communication and inflexibility of thought (Autism in the Early Years, 2010). However, recently this was changed to the diad of impairments.

  • Social communication and social interaction difficulties
  • Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests, including sensory behaviour.

Many of our children have trouble with sensory processing. They may find certain noises unbearable, some visual stimuli can be too much (eg. when the lights are too bright), they may seem to overreact to certain tastes and textures, and may engage in ‘sensory seeking behavior’ such as spinning round in circles or flapping their hands. I know with my eldest, he is very particular about the texture of clothes that he wears and is especially sensitive to certain foods. He has had the same packed lunch for the last five years, and you know what? It’s not a battle worth fighting. He has food he enjoys and he growing healthily so although I encourage him to try a new thing on at least three separate occasions, there is no point in putting us both through the stress of food he can’t cope with.

References

American Medical Association, (2016), International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision, Chicago, IL, USA.

American Psychiatric Association, (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders DSM-IV-TR. 1st ed. Washington, D.C.

National Autistic Society, (2008), NAS EarlyBird Programme Parent Book, London, England.

Cumine et al, (2010). Autism in The Early Years. 2nd ed. Oxfordshire, England.

© Peta Slaney, 2020, All Rights Reserved.