A common speech and language therapy recommendation is using visual information to support a child's understanding, and it's for good reason. The following scenario attempts to explain why…
Imagine you have arrived on a different planet and your brain has not adapted to interpreting the language the people speak there.
Let's call the language alienish.
All around you everyone is speaking aliensih, and looking expectantly at you to respond. 'Bloo lah nat w kig'
You start to become frustrated. You don't know what they want from you…
Are they asking you a question?
Are they giving you information?
Are they telling a joke?
Do they want you to do something?
You wake up in the morning and the person you are staying with tells you the plan for the day (except it's in alienish!!!).
Where are you supposed to go?
How long will you have to stay there for?
What is happening next?
You just want to curl up in a ball, instead of leaving the house!!!
They could be taking you anywhere!!!
Luckily some of the people who speak alienish also use objects, photographs and symbols as well as talking. You can recognise all of this visual information! It doesn't just disappear like the spoken information does, so you have plenty of time to process it! Hooray!
Someone comes over to you and says 'dee dah hoo ha mag'. As they say this, they show you a symbol with a car on it.
They then guide you to follow them to the car and they drive you to work.
The next time they show you this symbol, you realise what they are expecting you to do and you walk to the car yourself.
They also used the symbol again later at a different place and you still knew what was expected of you.
You didn't have to depend on the context to know what to do.
After time you associate the car symbol with the word 'mag'.
Without the symbol it would have taken you a lot longer to understand what was expected of you and also a lot longer for you to be able to follow that instruction without being guided.
This person also presents you with a strip of 5 symbols, you recognise the pictures.
It has an image of your favourite breakfast on it, then a picture of a gym (you hate the gym) but it's ok because there's a coffee shop symbol after it, so it's worth your while to get the gym out of the way.
This planet doesn't seem like such a confusing place anymore. You can keep this with you and if you forget later you can just refer back to it, just like you used to on earth with your diary.
You go for a walk and someone says 'yim hab'. What are they talking about?
Your friend gets there just in time with their keyring displaying a stop symbol. You recognise this and stop where you are, just before a hovercraft goes rushing by.
Good job you stopped!
The person speaking alienish must have been trying to say 'stay there'.
The symbols have been so helpful during your time there.
If more people used them alongside their spoken alienish, it would make this planet a much easier place for you to live.
Can you imagine living there without the visual support?
This is why speech and language therapists highly recommend now and next boards, visual timetables, symbol keyrings, objects of reference, gestures and sign language too.
It might take some effort setting up this support initially, but the scenarios highlight how important it is for others to communicate with symbols (or other visual support relevant to the child's strengths). Visual support should be used to emphasise the key words in your sentence, rather than every word. Key words are the words that carry the most information, e.g. it's time to go to the bathroom. If you know a child that struggles to process spoken language, then visual support can be a real game changer for the both of you, reducing a lot of stress, frustration and anxiety.
**The information above relates to symbols being used as the communication partner's voice to the child (usually an adult). Other symbol systems are available where the child can use symbols as their voice, e.g. a picture exchange communication system (PECS). Anything used that is not the child's voice is not PECS.
*(Please note these symbols in this article are from google images and not part of an official symbol set due to copyright. It is best to choose one symbol set to work with and consistently use the symbol for the word you pair it with. Types of symbol sets include PCS symbols, symbolstix, widget etc.)