How to Use Visuals in Individual Support Plans

Published On: 19 April 2023

An Individual Support Plan can go by many names: Behaviour Plan, Individual Education Plan, Positive Handling Plan, Support and Intervention Plan, or Individual Care Plan, just to name a few. Whatever it is called in your setting, this plan is a personalised document about an individual in your care. These plans contain vital information helping you to provide the best supports and care.

Working in education, health, and social care settings, we want to avoid producing a document that is crammed full of irrelevant, indigestible information about the individual. Many plans simply become too long and complex to be a practical tool for ongoing support. Others are rarely updated and contain out-of-date information that no longer has relevance.

For an Individual Support Plan to be useful and really serve a purpose, it needs to be simple and accessible to all. This means accessible not just to us and other professionals, but also to the child, young person, or adult we’re working with. The more the individual feels like they have ownership of their plan, the more useful it becomes for everyone.

Sometimes there will inevitably be information that needs to stay confidential, but we can make efforts to ensure that pertinent information is shared in an accessible way, with as much co-collaboration with the individual as possible.

How can be visuals be useful for Individual Support Plans?

An effective Individual Support Plan should include a snapshot of the child, young person, or adult we’re supporting. It’s about their likes and interests, challenges, and the strategies that best support them: it is key to making connections and developing levels of trust. This is particularly important when many professionals are involved in the individual’s care.

Most plans include:

  • The individual’s interests, likes and dislikes, and personal strengths
  • Relevant contextual information
  • Preferred methods of communication
  • Supportive strategies
  • Potential trigger situations and challenges
  • Medical conditions
  • Potential risks and/ or safeguarding considerations
  • Frequency and date of when the plan will be reviewed (in addition to ongoing notes made on the working document)

Whether it’s following a set of instructions or understanding how something works, visuals are great for breaking information down into bite-size pieces. Having an image of something in our heads can help us remember and remind us of what to do next. We can also be imaginative in how we use visuals to engage the individual in their own care so they have a greater understanding of why something is happening, not just what is going on.

Using visuals effectively

So how can we incorporate visuals into our plans to make them more accessible? While individual needs should always be taken into account, here are a 3 suggestions of ways to use them in plans.

1: Visuals to communicate preferences

Plans also often include likes, dislikes, and potential triggers. Visuals can support these in plans so an individual can see that staff understand their preferences. They can help co-create the plan by adding or removing items and matching them to preferred supports when they encounter these triggers. This can then be an effective tool for personalised support and a shared understanding between all professionals supporting an individual.

2: Using visuals to understand emotions

Helping individuals understand how they are feeling can be difficult, so visual supports are useful to represent different emotions. An individual may point or click on the relevant symbol during emotional check ins or plot their emotions over a day. If they have a special interest, these can be used to theme the images, although it’s important that we keep the meaning clear and don’t end up distracting with unnecessary visual clutter.

3: Review meetings

Regular reviews are an important way to check plans are still relevant, make necessary updates, and take a fresh look at the supports in place for an individual. It’s easy for professionals and outside agencies to be involved in reviews, but we can forget the importance of listening to the individual’s perspective, too. Visuals can be used to support a discussion with an individual about their care, supportive strategies, interests, and challenges they can face, feeding into the review and ensuring it captures their experiences and feelings.

Sharing the content of the Individual Support Plan

When we’ve created a support plan with supporting visuals, it’s important we remember to communicate and share it with colleagues, outside agencies, family and carers, and the individual so everyone can work together to meet their needs. It’s important everyone is on board and there is a consistency of support.

Remember, the content of individual plans are always evolving. We need to adapt and refresh them so they stay relevant and useful documents for us to use in our everyday practice. We can be reflective, open to the experiences of our colleagues, and share what we’ve found has worked well for us.


Individual Support Plans are an essential document to inform and support us about the individuals in our care, and the more accessible they are, the more useful they will be. Visuals are an excellent way of making a plan more user friendly and meaningful for the individuals they are written about. Finding ways to create and review them together ensures they are relevant, meaningful, and create a shared understanding.