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Visual Supports: How they can help improve lives

visual supports - orkid ideas

Clare and Deborah of Orkid Ideas are two mums passionate about visual supports and how they can be used to improve the lives of children, and adults with disabilities. They designed and developed TomTag – an award-winning visual support tool, inspired and named after Clare’s son Tomas who has autism.

Whilst we all rely on some sort of visual support in our everyday lives -a watch, a food-shopping list or diary for example, visual supports are particularly important for those with disabilities as they can assist with communication, help develop organisation skills and promote independence.

Clare and Deborah give some real-life examples to explain how people with disabilities can use visual supports to help make a meaningful difference to their daily lives.

Daily living

A simple visual checklist breaking down personal hygiene routines into small steps can be an effective way to teach and remind children how to take care of their bodies and help them develop good personal hygiene practices for life.

Checklists for learning personal hygiene routines such as toileting, hand washing, showering, bathing, hair care or general daily hygiene tasks can be created and kept handy in the bathroom or bedroom.

For older children and adults, visual checklists can be used to develop independent living skills such as doing the laundry, shopping and cooking.

child cleaning their teeth with tom tagchild washing their hands with tom tag

Schedules and routines

A visual schedule can help people with disabilities organise and manage their day and can be in a variety of formats, for example a written list, pictures, symbols or actual objects.

For individuals with few language skills or who are mostly non-verbal a visual schedule can be created using actual objects to represent activities; for example, a cup for snack time, a spoon for meals or a shopping bag for trips to the supermarket. Hand the object to the individual to indicate the activity they are moving or transitioning to next. Don’t forget to make a list of which objects you are going to use to represent each activity.

Picture, symbol or photograph schedules are good for individuals who can consistently match pictures in the same way you would in a simple lotto game whilst written schedules work best for individuals who can read.  You can move from picture to written schedules by adding words alongside the pictures and then gradually work towards replacing them completely

A visual schedule helps reduce anxiety by taking away the element of surprise and makes transitions between activities easier. They are also transferable between environments and people keeping everyone involved organised!  Depending on the age and ability of the individual the more you can involve them in helping to make their own schedules, the more likely they are to take ownership and be committed and motivated towards using them.

cooking with tom tagscollection of tom tags


Being able to make choices gives people with disabilities greater control over their environment and increases their independence. Visual supports can assist with communicating needs and wants. For example, when getting dressed, offer a choice of two different shirts by holding the two shirts up and asking them to choose either by pointing at the shirt, looking at it or saying which they prefer. Likewise, when offering a drink, use a choice board with pictures to allow them to choose from two or three options.

Sensory overload, changes to routine, difficulties processing information, being tired or hungry are all common triggers for anger and challenging behaviour. A visual feelings scale can be used to help individuals tell you how they are feeling. Whilst a visual reminder giving guidance and strategies about what they can do about the situation will help them handle things better in the future.

Visual supports sometimes take time to establish but used consistently can help people with disabilities live their lives more independently and with confidence.

TomTag is an award-winning visual support resource. Create personalised visual schedules, timetables, checklists, choice boards, reward charts or reminders for a wide range of needs and experiences all with one unique and versatile system. For advice and support about TomTag visual resources you can contact Clare and Deborah at www.orkidideas.com

child zipping up his jacket with tom tagstom tags and playing

Find Orkid Ideas on Disabled Living‘s Supplier Directory here: https://supplierdirectory.disabledliving.co.uk/orkid-ideas-2/

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