Symbols and photographs

Some children relate better to symbols and others to photographs. If using pictures, make sure they are clearly visible and that the background does not distract from the main image. Show the picture every time you do a familiar activity so the child builds a picture vocabulary alongside the spoken word. You could also build a bank of pictures of familiar people, or favourite places and use these to communicate what is happening at different times during the day.

A choice of two

Once your child is familiar with the objects, symbols or photographs then you can start to offer a choice of activity. ‘Would you like to do this or that?’ Your child can indicate their choice by eye pointing, a gesture or hand movement and will learn that they can change the world around them using this type of communication. Gradually you can build up the range of choices available.

Choice boards

All young children benefit from visual support so introducing a choice board into the classroom is beneficial for everyone. Laminated symbols and photographs can be easily changed using Velcro and enable the class teacher to present the activities on offer that day. Use nursery rhyme and song boards to encourage active participation in circle time and a choice board of drinks and snacks to boost communication and engagement.

Changing activities

Objects, symbols or photographs can help a child prepare for a change in activity. A disabled child may not understand why the rest of the class have all rushed off to get their coats and bags. Use a picture indicating that it is either PE or home time would help. A series of pictures can be used to communicate a sequence of activities, for example story, then snack, then home, and reduce anxiety around starting a new school.

Choice and change

Choice boards can be used to limit the options on offer for a child who is reluctant to change activities. Use them to help a child understand that the computer is not on offer for that session but will be available later, or that you only have juice or water to drink but no milk.

New activities and foods can be introduced onto the choice board to encourage the child to try something new. Children begin to understand that it is good to try new activities and to meet new people. By giving the child a voice they can also start to feel in control of their own environment.

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