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Using Visuals Aids & Objects of Reference to Enhance Communication


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Visuals and objects of reference are great, and can be used in so many ways. They are especially useful with children who have severe learning difficulties, special needs, autism or communication delay. Visuals and objects are often easier to understand for some children than spoken words.


Objects of reference

Through the use of objects or tactile symbols, individuals can build up a wide range of communication options. These systems are generally used with individuals with visual and hearing difficulties and /or severe learning difficulties who may also be non-verbal. Some individuals may not have the motor skills to learn signing, so reaching for, or touching objects may be a better alternative.


In their simplest form, objects can be used to give individuals an idea of what is about to happen e.g. give someone a spoon and they know its time for lunch, or a towel, before going swimming. However, this form of communication can also be used in many more complex ways and the individual can communicate, make choices, and learn language. If we can develop the use of textures, objects and symbols, we can improve organisational skills, sequencing, develop language concepts, and communication.


Visual Strategies / Pictures

Visuals and pictures can work for many individuals with communication difficulties. Visual strategies can be used in many ways to enhance understanding and expression. They are particularly useful for non-verbal individuals, individuals with learning difficulties and/or those with autism. Some individuals are “visual learners” and respond better to visual input than auditory input. Visuals can be used in isolation to represent single words or actions and make choices, they can be used in stories, timetables or schedules to help with routine, and they can be used as an additional cue to the spoken word to help support understanding. These assistive communication aids can also be used by the child to communicate. A child may not be able to say the word toilet, but if he shows you a picture of a toilet, or gives you a toilet roll holder, you know where he wants to go.

For more information about special needs and other communication difficulties, and ideas and strategies to help communication, see our Resources, or for specific fact-sheets with helpful hints about Special Needs and different forms of assistive communication go to the Downloads section.


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