Low tech strategies can be used in numerous ways to give the child visual information for following directions. Visual information greatly increases the child's comprehension of what is expected of him and is far more effective than auditory directions only. Visual directions help gain, maintain and refocus a child's attention as well as ensuring that he gets complete instructions, thereby reducing the amount of support needed and increasing independent skills.

The following "low-tech" strategies can be used to give the child visually presented directions:

Example: Take out your journals; Write 3 sentences about your weekend; Raise your hand when you are finished.

Example: Brushing teeth, making lunch, vacuuming, folding towels, setting the table, checking out books from the library, cooking, "homework directions", "school morning directions" etc.

"Visual Directions"

"School morning directions"
Example: Upon arrival at school a child is given a "morning directions" card to assist him in completing a visual list of instructions before sitting at his desk and beginning the day. The card is laminated with a dry erase marker attached by a string and is located near the child's coat hook. After hanging up his coat and backpack, he can take the card and begin the "morning directions", checking off each item upon completion (e.g., Put reading book in tub; Put attendance stick in box; Put lunch ticket in hot/cold box; Put "Morning Directions" card away; Sit at desk).

"Brushing teeth"
Example: Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) representing each sequential step in this task, are placed on a Velcro strip positioned directly above the sink (in front of the child). As the child completes each step of the task, he pulls off the PCS representing the step which he has completed, and puts it in an "all done" envelope.

Example: A small set of Picture Communication Symbols (PCS) representing the steps necessary to complete the library routine of choosing a book, "checking" the book out, sitting at a table and reading the book, and then walking back to class is created. This set of PCS is attached via a metal ring which can easily be kept in the child's pocket or attached to a belt loop or binder for easy step-by-step reference when going to the library.

"Setting Table"
Example: Photographs of each sequential step for setting the table are placed in a small photo album accompanied by the written direction. The last page should indicate something desirable for the child to do upon completion of this task, such as "computer for 30 minutes". The child is taught to turn each page as he has completed a step.

For children who need very explicit forewarning regarding when something is going to "stop/end" or be "all done", use of "go", "almost done" and "stop" cards have proven very effective in giving children this important information to assist them in making this sometimes difficult transition (to stop).

Strategy: These cards are particularly useful for activities which do not have clear cut endings, such as some computer games, video games, drawing, etc.

"Stop" Card
Each card is a large colored circle with "go" as green, "almost done" as yellow, and "stop" as red, with the word written in large letters in the center of the colored circle. When the child starts an activity, the "go" card is placed on his desk, computer table etc., accompanied by a verbal message to "go" or "start" the task. When there are approximately 1-2 minutes left for the child to continue the activity, the "almost done" yellow circle is placed in front of the child again, accompanied by a verbal message. When it is time to stop the activity, the "stop" circle is placed in front of the child with the verbal message that it is time to stop.

Putting rules in a visual form allows the child to understand the expectations, as well as what actions or alternatives are acceptable. This strategy results in more consistent behavior (12). In addition, visual representation of rules and alternative behaviors allows the child to improve his self-regulation and self-management skills without needing the support of an adult.

"Individual Rules"
  • Class rules or individualized personal rules taped to desk: These rules should be provided through a visual representation system which the child can understand (written words, line drawings, etc.). If the child is engaging in an inappropriate behavior, he can be directed to look at a specific rule, e.g., "Read rule number 3".
  • "Good Choices That I Can Make" list: This visual support strategy assists the child in understanding and making appropriate choices when he has "broken" rules or engaged in inappropriate behaviors. This list should be posted so that the child has easy visual access to it, and should initially be referenced by an adult in the environment to teach the child the importance of this visual support strategy.
Example: The child is making silly noises at the beginning of a math assignment, with math typically being a difficult subject for the child. An adult can direct the child to the appropriate rule that is visually represented on his desk, by either pointing to the rule or stating "look at rule number___", which states "sit quietly and do my work" . The adult should then reference the child's "Good Choices That I Can Make" list. The adult may initially need to point out which specific choice the child should make in this circumstance.

This strategy will greatly assist the child in developing behavioral self-management skills. The following "Good Choices That I Can Make" list is an example:

  1. I can raise my hand to ask questions or get help.
  2. I can ask more questions if I still don't understand.
  3. If I don't understand what someone is saying or doing, I can ask them.
  4. I know that my own words and actions can make people feel differently than I do.
  5. I can use "I" messages to tell people how I feel. ("I feel bad when you tell me it's inside recess")
  6. I can write down the problem and then think of appropriate things that I could do.
  7. I could use relaxation strategies. "Take a deep breath, count to 10, breathe out slowly"
  8. I could ask for time-out (break) all by myself.
  9. I can make good choices.
  • Individual rule/behavior cards: These visual representation cards can be kept on a metal ring and used when needed either singly or in succession. Use of the international "no" should be drawn in red on top of the Picture Communication Symbol (PCS) or photo when appropriate to clearly indicate that a specific behavior should not occur. Behavior management cards can also be "color coded". This gives the child additional visual information to better understand desired and undesired behaviors. The following colors are used:
Red: behaviors you don't want the child to do (e.g., "no throwing").
Yellow: behaviors you request the child to demonstrate (e.g., "shhh, quiet", "quiet hands").
Green: appropriate alternative choices (e.g., "give a hug", "take a walk").

"Individual Rule / Behavior" Cards
Example: Picture Communication Symbol (PCS) laminated on large index cards to communicate the following:
"Look at Mrs. Jones" - PCS of eyes;
"Sit on chair" - PCS of a child sitting in a chair;
"Shhh, be quiet" - PCS of a face with its finger to lips indicating "Shh";
"Don't hit" - international "no" drawn on top of PCS of a child hitting another child; etc.
  • Transition rule cards: These cards can be used to help the child understand (visually) where he is going and what is expected of him in this environment.
Example: Going to McDonald's: A photograph of McDonald's is laminated to an index card. On the back of the card, specific "rules" for McDonald's are visually represented.
  • If something is bothering me I can...: This strategy visually helps the child choose appropriate alternative behaviors when he is anxious or stressed. This card can be taped to his desk with the above heading and the following examples, or placed in a small photo, album which may also contain other visual support strategies:
    • raise my hand for help
    • close my eyes and count to 10
    • take 5 big breaths
    • ask for a break