Saturday, April 10, 2010

Autism Visual Aids Series #1: Show, Don't Tell

"A picture is worth a thousand words."
- Napoleon Bonaparte

What are visual aids?

The vast majority of children with autism depend on visual aids for organization, behavior support, social skills development, and comprehension. That being said, so do people who are neurotypical (without autism.)  So far this week, I have used several visual supports:

to do list
lesson plans
city map
street signs
day planner
sticky notes
grocery list
tv guide
store map

    How do visual aids help students with autism spectrum disorders?

    One of the characteristics of autism is impaired language.  So expecting a person with autism to take in verbal directions, understand them, remember them, and then follow through on them is a bit unrealistic.  I remember my friend and I being lost in Japan immediately after my arrival at the airport.  We knew very little Japanese.  When we pulled over for directions, I mustered up enough language to ask how to get to our destination.  However, I could not understand the verbal directions the man gave us.  He spoke too fast for my ability and there were words I did not know.  Noticing my confused facial expression, the man drew us a map.  That map got us home.

    "I see and I remember."
    Similar to the example above, our kids with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty with language.  As in my own scenario, they may struggle to make sense of what is being said.  Unfortunately, even if they are trying really hard to understand, spoken words disappear as they are produced.  This transient nature of spoken language makes processing and remembering verbal language difficult.  However, visual supports such as the written word or pictures, do not disappear.  Further, drawings, photographs, and actual objects can represent ideas and remove the added step of the student having to construct meaning or come up with a mental image.  You can re-read an item on a calendar as many times as you need to.

    Future posts at Teaching and Tech Tinkerings will provide examples of visual aids designed to assist individuals with autism.  Check back for images and descriptions of a picture schedule, a task list, and a first...then...grid. 

    Readers Respond

    Are there any visual aids you cannot live without? Send a comment or respond to the poll.  Results will be posted in the sidebar to the right and in the post below.