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Why Would We Use Visuals in Our Work?

Hmmm, how to start off this interesting, broad question! Clearly, this blog is for those who have sight and/or some sort of vision impairment. For many of us, visuals can be useful in a number of ways. They can help us:

  • Make choices (song choice, activity choice, which animal should we sing about next, clothes for bed, need to clean teeth, which color is red, how do you feel, use your imagination!)

  • Know what is happening and in what order: Visual schedule - or First/then

  • Develop some key concepts and words: I want/more/finish

 


Visuals can help with memory, attract and maintain interest, develop a sense of ownership, improve understanding, reduce anxiety, help with choice making, and increase communication between those involved.


During Music Therapy Sessions, visuals can be used to enhance and complement the activities. A visual schedule or timetable showing the client the order of activities in a session can be referred to at any time, which may provide comfort, reduce anxiety, provide structure, predictability, prepare the client for what’s next, and assist with transitions and changes or unfamiliar events.


Here is an example of using visuals to assist with change:

General

Hello, movement activity, drumming, instrument activity, relaxation, goodbye


Slight Change (same, but a couple of activities switched)

Hello, movement activity, instrument activity, drumming, relaxation, goodbye


Something Different

Hello, movement activity, drumming, dancing, relaxation, goodbye


Surprise Activity

Hello, movement activity, surprise activity, instrument activity, relaxation, goodbye


Choice Making

Hello, movement activity, drumming, choice dancing/instrument activity, relaxation, goodbye




 

As you can see, each flow has a different impact on the client. You’ll notice the beginning and end remain the same, and the change is put in the middle, which can assist with self-regulation.


Schedules can be further adapted to life skills such as sleeping and brushing teeth or day schedules, such as a dentist’s appointment. Maybe the dentist makes them anxious, but seeing it in their schedule and knowing they will be coming back to a familiar activity they enjoy afterward may assist with processing and self-regulation. Life can’t always be routine and ordered – life just happens… the dog’s unwell, you’re sick and can’t go to school, the car has a flat tire, etc. The use of schedules can assist with self-regulation through transitions and prepare for change. Musical activities are a great way to learn and practice these skills before transitioning them into everyday life.



Visuals reinforce learning and concepts, especially for children. In autism, visuals can aid in processing information. Words can be heard and forgotten; however, a visual is permanent and has time to be processed. If forgotten, the person can come back and look at the picture and process it again. It can also be helpful for those with ADHD, anxiety, PTSD, and auditory processing, where time is needed to really process information that words can’t seem to hold.


In my work with disabilities, visuals used can be exciting and motivating, such as choosing a song with a favorite band like The Wiggles or Coldplay. If the person is unable to think of a choice, options can be provided, and the number of options can be adjusted depending on the goals and the client.


I currently have several Telehealth clients, and online visuals are used for most of these sessions. Most clients have a PowerPoint (ppt) that is used during the session, which the client has set up, to varying degrees, with me. This includes choosing colors, images, animations, and titles. The ppt can be used as a visual schedule, clicking through each page or going back to a main page and clicking on links to take you to the next part of the session.


For these sessions, visuals may include:

  • Images of sections such as vocal warm-ups, song choices, activity choices, fill-in word gaps to songs, song lyrics, song creation, movie creation, watching music videos.

  • Clients can record footage, their voice, take photos of nature or their toys or family, and email them to me, and they may go into a project.


One example of this is a small group of young adults with brain injury who have been working online for a couple of years. We have created a rap song/video, a pop rap song/video, and are currently creating a mini radio show to play in their house using GarageBand – the clients are slowly recording their voices and sending them to me, and this is added live in the sessions. The group can visually see what I am doing on a big TV in a common area and have a say if they like it. Do they want to re-record, increase the volume, have something moved, like a sound effect moved to a different part of the show?



Visuals can seem quite daunting to begin with, so if you’re not sure of the best way to use visuals, I highly recommend getting advice from a speech therapist, especially if the client you are working with has their own visuals and communication device. They can advise you on the best way to use visuals and may be able to provide resources to help you.


Lastly, as a Music Therapist, the visuals always add to the music and allow a client to develop their own way of communicating ideas clearly.


 


Registered Music Therapist 

Christie Cula-Reid


Christie has been working as a music therapist for 15 years. Christie works across the lifespan specialising in children and adults with disabilities and aged care. Christie is also a vocalist and enjoys performing and helping others to find their voice. Christie specialises in facilitating telehealth sessions for both individuals and groups.

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