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Understanding the Role of Visual Supports

Using visual supports in language therapy is a highly effective strategy for enhancing understanding and communication in individuals with language processing challenges, including those with developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), hyperlexia, or aphasia. Visual supports can bridge the gap between comprehension and expression, providing a concrete reference that can help to decode abstract language concepts. Here's a guide on how to use visual supports to aid understanding in language therapy:

Understanding the Role of Visual Supports

Visual supports are tools that use visual items or cues to communicate information. These can include pictures, symbols, written words, objects, or arrangements of these elements in various formats. The key advantage of visual supports is their ability to remain present after the spoken word has disappeared, giving the individual additional time to process information.

Types of Visual Supports

  1. Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS): A form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) that uses pictures to help individuals communicate their needs and thoughts without relying solely on speech.

  2. Visual Schedules: Sequences of pictures or symbols that depict the steps of an activity or the events of the day, providing a predictable structure that can reduce anxiety and improve the ability to follow routines.

  3. Social Stories: Short descriptions of a particular situation, event, or activity, which include specific information about what to expect in that situation and why.

  4. Flashcards: Cards with pictures, symbols, or words that can be used to teach new vocabulary, concepts, or sequences of events.

  5. Visual Scripts: Written or pictorial guides for social interactions or tasks, providing explicit examples of what to say or do in specific situations.

Implementing Visual Supports in Language Therapy

1. Assessment and Planning:

  • Evaluate the individual's specific needs, strengths, and preferences to determine the most appropriate types of visual supports.

  • Collaborate with the individual, their family, and other professionals (if applicable) to set goals for using visual supports in therapy.

2. Customization:

  • Create or select visual supports that are tailored to the individual's age, interests, and level of understanding.

  • Ensure that the visuals are clear, uncluttered, and consistent in style to avoid confusion.

3. Integration into Therapy:

  • Introduce visual supports gradually, explaining their purpose and demonstrating how to use them.

  • Use visual supports consistently across therapy sessions to build familiarity and ease of use.

4. Teaching with Visual Supports:

  • For Vocabulary Development: Use flashcards or picture dictionaries to introduce new words, pairing them with the spoken word to enhance word recognition and understanding.

  • For Sentence Structure: Create sentence strips with visual symbols representing each part of speech, allowing the individual to construct sentences by arranging the symbols in order.

  • For Storytelling and Sequencing: Use picture sequences or storyboards to illustrate the beginning, middle, and end of stories or tasks, helping the individual understand order and causality.

  • For Social Skills: Employ social stories and visual scripts to prepare for social interactions, teaching appropriate responses and behaviors in various social contexts.

5. Encouraging Independence:

  • As the individual becomes more familiar with the visual supports, encourage them to use these tools independently to communicate needs, make choices, or plan activities.

  • Gradually introduce more complex visual supports to challenge and further develop their understanding and communication skills.

6. Monitoring and Adjusting:

  • Regularly review the effectiveness of the visual supports, making adjustments as needed based on the individual's progress and feedback.

  • Be open to trying different types of visual supports if some are not as effective as anticipated.


Visual supports are a versatile and powerful tool in language therapy, offering concrete aids to improve comprehension, expression, and social interaction. By carefully selecting and integrating visual supports into therapy, practitioners can provide individuals with a more accessible and engaging way to understand and use language, ultimately enhancing their communication skills and independence.

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