Visual Supports for Children with Down syndrome
Feb 21, 2013 by


· Improve understanding of words, routines and situations

· Aid memory

· Give reassurance, confirmation and reduce anxiety

Examples of visual supports include:

· Visual schedules / timetables

· Choice boards

· Visually supported play

· Step-by-step directions

· Calendars

· Classroom rules

· Social stories

· Sign Language

Visual Supports for Young Children

Sometimes children with Down Syndrome understand more language than they are able to use. Visual supports are a great way to aid expressive communication.

Photographs can be taken of any object or routine and put somewhere accessible, for example

· food symbols on the fridge

· toy symbols on the toy box

Your child is then able to use the symbols to tell you what he/she wants by looking at the pictures, pointing to them or handing them over. Photographs can also be put on objects around the house to label them and help your child’s understanding, e.g. toilet, fridge, door, etc. Always remember to write the word in clear font underneath the photograph. Avoid using block capitals, underlining or italics.

Making singing fun: If you Google ‘Scope 2007 Nursery Rhymes to Sing, See and Sign’ you will find free printable resources of familiar nursery rhymes, e.g. Baa Baa black Sheep, Old MacDonald, etc. These nursery rhymes are a perfect example of the effectiveness of visual supports to encourage communication and attention. The rhymes include sign language, picture symbols and the written word. Have a look! Alternatively you can search the website for these resources.

Please note: visual supports won’t stop your child from speaking. They are a way of adding to your child’s skills and reducing frustration.

Visual Schedules/ Timetables for Home or School

A visual timetable is a display of the sequence of events within a set period. Timetables provide a person with consistent cues about their daily routine. It helps children organise their day and know the general sequence of events. Visual timetables can be arranged in many ways. Here is a brief description from Scope* of how to make your own visual timetable.

  1. Make a list of the activities in the order they occur.
  2. Decide on the complexity of the display: will the Timetable represent daily or weekly activities?
  3. Decide where or how the Timetable will be displayed, for example, a wall chart or an A4 folder.
  4. Select photographs/pictures/symbols/words which are meaningful to your child and which match their experience of the event or activity.
  5. Decide on the size of each item. Items need to be large enough to be clearly seen by your child.
  6. Work out the number of items that your child can cope with.
  7. Work out what materials your display will be made of and how each item will be attached to the display, for example, blue track, self-adhesive Velcro, magnets. Items may need to be laminated to make them last longer.
  8. Include a way of letting your child know that an activity is finished. You can attach a ‘finished’ envelope or box at the bottom of your Timetable where your child can post the picture once the activity is completed.

*Scope (2004). InterAACtion: Strategies for Intentional and Unintentional Communicators

In conclusion: I once read a poem (unfortunately I don’t know the author) that described the use of visual supports beautifully:

When I see … I understand


When I hear, I forget

In one ear, and out the next.

But it makes more sense to me

When there’s something I can see

Whether I’m young, or if I’m old

It helps to see what I am told

A written word, a picture card

Can simplify what might be hard.

A visual aid describes it best

And gives the voice and ears a rest

From making friend to handling fear

Showing me how makes it more clear

There’s not much left to explain

When a picture shows my brain

Who or where or what you mean

On a clear computer screen

To recall what you heard

A picture paints a thousand words.

©Marinet Janse van Vuren, DSC 2009

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