visuals support learning SEN
Autism, education, inclusion, resources, special education, special needs, Teaching

6 Ways Symbols Support Learning

Symbol Supported Communication

Support Learning using Symbols

Symbols can be used to support both receptive and expressive communication. They support word recognition in pre-readers and can be used in times of increased stress to communicate a need when word recall is impaired, for example showing an exit symbol for time out instead of having to ask or explain why. This post on transition has a free bank of editable visual resources to download.

Here are six reasons why it makes sense to create symbol-supported resources for your learners who communicate differently whether this is due to speech, language, and communication needs, autism, developmental delay, or other needs. I have a more in depth post here on using Visuals in the SEND classroom.

6 Ways Symbols Support Learning.

1. Clarify steps in a process, this may be a dressing routine, timetable or shopping list

2. Aid expressive/receptive language, this is especially useful when stress levels are high.

3. Support associative memory, For example we are going to the sensory room – Show a picture of the room to trigger a reminder of how positive that was last time.

4. Organise resources, equipment: Symbols on each drawer or cupboard help children identify where to find equipment.

5. Develop Independence skills, especially around making choices, again reducing the need for word finding and expressive language.

6. Reinforce Routine: Using symbols or images allow children to see the expected routine. Separate cards the give the child control and choices in building their own routine.

symbol visual supports learning

Resources to help create a symbol/visual supported environment.

There are many resources available to help you create a visual or symbol rich environment. This may be a special education or special needs setting or a mainstream classroom seeking to be more inclusive. Many are free Widgit is well worth paying for an has a free trial available.

Widgit online, Low cost simple and effective software for creating symbol or picture resources.

Do2Learn, – Free to print visual cards – A child-safe free image site for when you want pictures rather than symbols.

ReachoutASC – Some excellent resources, particularly around transition and social stories.


Bondy, A. & Frost, L. (2002). A picture’s worth: PECS and other visual communication strategies in autism. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.

Hodgdon, L. (1999). Solving behavior problems in autism: Improving communication with visual strategies. Solana Beach, CA: Mayer-Johnson Company.