Visual Supports Autism

Thoreau wrote, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

The title of Temple Grandin’s, book “Thinking in Pictures.” emphasizes the importance of visual information for people with autism spectrum disorders. It isn’t that speech and other auditory signals can’t be useful, because they can. But on average, carefully crafted and appropriately presented visual stimuli can not only facilitate learning, but can make the day-to-day world more negotiable for many people with ASDs. This article provides information about a variety of visual supports that can be helpful to children and youth with autism spectrum disorders.

The Autism Spectrum Institute of Illinois State University states, “Visual supports are tools that are used to increase the understanding of language, environmental expectations, and to provide structure and support for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). They facilitate understanding by remaining static or fixed in the individual's environment. If verbal language, which is considered transient or fleeting, is the only method used to communicate expectations, provide support and increase an understanding of language, then individuals with ASD may have extreme difficulty.”; Accessed 7-18-09
[Image: Thanks to WorkingWithAutism.Com]

General Information About Visual Supports

Linda Hodgdon, MEd & CCC-SL author of “Visual Strategies For Improving Communication” (1995( Quirks Roberts Publishing Co., has a wide array of visual support suggestions at her website: Though a bit dated, her book is a goldmine of terrific strategies.

Another good general resource is: Marlene Cohen and Donna Sloan (2007) “Visual Supports for People with Autism: A Guide for Parents and Professionals”. Woodbine House. This award-winning book is by two behavior analysts from the Rutgers University’s Douglass Center.

Visual Schedules

A series of activities extending over a period of time can seem confusing and overwhelming to a child with autism. Breaking those activities down into discrete subtasks or activities represented by pictures or printed words (with higher functioning school age youngsters) can transform a chaotic or daunting situation into one that is more manageable for a child with an ASD. McClannahan and Krantz were the first to introduce “activity schedules”, and their book is still a great introduction.
• Lynn McClannahan and Patricia Krantz (1999) Activity Schedules for Children With Autism: Teaching Independent Behavior. Woodbine House

Other very useful resources include:

• The Creative Teaching CAP website, which offers an array of visual activity schedule materials for sale for children with autism• This family owned business was started by Lauren Padgett, mother of two children, one of whom (Lucas) has autism and intellectual disability. Their site offers a range of visual schedule and related resources.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) PECS was the invention of Andrew Bondy, Ph.D., and Lori Frost, MS, CCC/SLP invented. See Pyramid Educational Consultants PECS is a symbol or pictorial based communication system. This site lists training opportunities as well as a wealth of purchasable materials based on Bondy and Frost’s PEC System. Using PECS effectively requires being trained how to introduce PECS and how use them with a child with autism. There is much more involved than posting a Velcro strip with pictures of activities, actions and consequences on the refrigerator door.

Visual Token Systems

• This site, founded by Jason Wallin, includes contributions by several autism practitioners and professionals. Prior to his enrollment at Central Washington University, Jason worked as a special education paraeducator for the Oak Harbor School District and as a private consultant/therapist in Oak Harbor, Washington for seven years. The site provides several very useful token systems for kids with ASDs.

Visual Supports for Social Problem Solving

• The most widely known visual support in this category is Carol Gray’s "Social StoriesTM". The Gray Center website describes: “A Social Story™ describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format. The goal of a Social Story™ is to share accurate social information in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience. The goal of a Story™ should be to improve understanding of events and expectations that may lead to more effective responses.

• Jed Baker’s (2003) “The Social Skills Picture Book Teaching play, emotion, and communication to children with autism”, Future Horizons, Publ. embraces this philosophy in this a dynamic teaching tool that engages the attention and motivation of students who need a little extra help learning appropriate social skills by using pictures of children mastering skills such as communication, play, emotion, and empathy. One Amazon reviewer wrote: “We all know that kids with Autism are visual learners, and we also know that our kids need help in the area of social skills. It only makes sense to combine the two into one book.”

A variety of commercial visual products are available to promote social skills and problem solving. For example, Social Skill Building provides CDs with social problem solving scenarios.

Video Modeling

Some children with ASDs find it easier to learn to imitate from watching a video model of a specific skill than watching a parent, teacher or therapist model the same skill. In the latter situations there are often multiple distractions that make it more difficult to focus on relevant cues. Among the resources available are the following:

• Model Me Kids,
• Tom Buggey’s 2009 book, Seeing Is Believing: Video Self-Modeling for People with Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. Woodbine House

Facial Discrimination Learning

"Let’s Face It", offers free computer software to assist in learning to discriminate facial features and expression. Hosted by Prof Jim Tanaka, Univ of Victoria, Canada
There are other costly software programs available, such as Cambridge University's "Mind Reading" DVD.

Miscellaneous Visual Supports

• Board Maker Software that enables you to create interactive symbol-based communication and educational materials
• Do2learn, a website that offers a wide array of visual support materials and resources

• Susan Stokes, “Structured Teaching: Strategies for Supporting Students with Autism”. Website is a terrific resource for classroom teachers that includes a discussion and examples of Physical Structure, Visual Schedules and Teaching Method. Physical structure refers to the way in which we set up and organize the person's physical environment: It emphasizes where/how we place the furniture and materials (1) in the various environments including classrooms, playground, workshop/work area, bedroom, hallways, locker/cubby areas, etc.

• Travis Thompson (2008) Chapter 9. Physical Setting Features, Pgs. 175- 191 in
"Freedom from Meltdowns", Baltimore, Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. is a discussion of physical organization and specific visual and auditory features of an intervention setting that can facilitate or interfere with learning.

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