Many children with autism are visual learners (see Temple Grandin’s book Thinking in Pictures). That said, it’s not surprising that visual supports often play a key role in intervention programs for children (and adults) with autism. Even so, sometimes it can be a tough job trying to convince people of the value and importance of using visual supports.
Over the next few posts, I’ll address some of the most common barriers to using visual supports and share some of my favourite resources.
“I don’t understand why we need visuals”
Every child is different, but more often than not, visual supports make a big difference, especially when it comes to addressing problem behaviour (and transitions, communication, social skills, leisure activities, daily living skills, and vocational skills). Basically visuals rock for a number of reasons. Here are a few:
Visuals enhance the understanding of expectations. Unlike words, which are fleeting, visuals are concrete (i.e., you can see them) and they stick around longer so your child can refer back to them a number of times if they need to. This is especially important for children who have difficulty following spoken instructions or processing difficulties. In short, visuals help children with autism better understand what we are saying to them.
Visuals break it down. Using visuals, you can break down complex tasks and display them in a simple and manageable step-by-step format. If you’ve ever been on Instructables (learning how to build a HUGE BUBBLE MAKER no doubt), or learned how to make a cool craft from Pinterest (like an origami paper crane), you’ll know that when you’re learning something new, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Also, this can reduce your child’s frustration by making the task seem easier and more approachable.
Visuals increase predictability. Children with autism often thrive on consistency and predictability within their routines and daily schedule. Visuals allow you to present the passage of time, events (including what events are going to occur and the order they are going to occur) and changes in daily routines in a clear, simple way. In addition, visuals give your child a way to reliably predict when an activity or task will be “finished”.
Visuals increase independence. The great thing about visuals is that once you teach your child to use them, you can back up and gradually fade yourself (and often the visuals) out so that your child is engaging in the activity or task independently. In contrast, if you’re only using verbal prompts or cues, someone always needs to be there to tell your child what they need to do next.
Other reasons why visuals rock? They increase motivation (think: first/then boards), support choice-making (think: choice boards), and enhance communication (think: PECS).