Another autism history lesson

This is another autism history lesson.

I remember one of my “ah-ha moments”
Suzie was having difficulty every day when she entered the classroom. She climbed off the school bus, lunch box clutched to her chest, and by the time she entered her classroom, I’ll bet you might guess she wanted to eat her lunch. Of course the struggle started when her teacher had a different idea.

I think this is a pretty classic example what can happen for students on the autism spectrum. Some issues are all about timing and sequence and waiting.

I had been learning
By then I had learned about TEAACH in North Carolina. One of the strategies they talked about was using schedules for students. I figured I could create a schedule for Suzie to show her what needed to happen when she entered the classroom. I also used the schedule to show her when she was going to eat lunch.

It worked!
I collected a few pictures to represent the morning activities. When I showed them to her she did what she was supposed to do. Magic? Probably not. But she understood. She understood what she needed to do. And she understood that she would get her lunch in a little while.

That was a defining moment
My brain started to see more opportunities for those pictures for Suzi and for the other students in my program.

There was a problem
Finding pictures was a huge challenge.

Here’s what we had to work with
I cut pictures out of magazines and coloring books and student workbooks. I spent time coloring them so they would look “pretty.”

Cameras had limitations. I walked around taking photos and then I had to take the film to the drug store to be developed. That could take a week. Then if I needed an enlargement of a picture, it could take another week. The Polaroid Camera came along and offered a nice grainy picture option that produced immediate pictures, by-passing the drug store.

I can imagine
We were in a “pre-tech” era. There was no such thing as a camera in a phone or iPad. There was no digital anything at the time. Some of you readers probably don’t even know there was a time before computers.

We spent a lot of time with cut and paste activities to create the visual tools. We learned to be very inventive and resourceful.

Then a miracle appeared
I went to a conference and in the exhibit hall I discovered Mayer Johnson’s Picture Communication Symbols. It was a 3-ring binder with pages of stick figures to be used for communication boards.

When I took the book back to my school, I could take a page out of the book, make a Xerox copy of it and cut out the picture that I needed. Many of us used that book so we made sure to tell everyone not to cut the original page in the book so we could keep the book complete.

This product was the first real resource I had to help make visual tools for my students. Over time, this set of picture symbols has morphed to become Boardmaker.

Time has passed
Currently, Boardmaker is an extremely popular digital picture program. Now it’s joined by many other picture programs. Stick figures have turned into colored 3-D art. There are programs with different styles of art and photograph collections that increase the picture options available. In addition, it’s extremely easy to take your own photos to create visual tools that are personalized for individual students.

One more thing
Using visual strategies has morphed from creating a schedule for students into using those visual tools for an endless number of purposes to help student participate successfully in their life opportunities.

What’s your story?
Some of you readers were lucky enough to be trained in current state-of-the-art use of visual supports with modern tools so you could immediately affect the lives of your students.

I also know that some readers have a long story to tell.

Please share your story below.

I’m making a resource guide
I’m putting together a guide of resources for making visual tools for students. Tell me below your favorite tools and picture resources so I can add them to the guide.


Kindle Version
Visual Strategies for Improving Communication (Revised)
Practical Supports for Autism Spectrum Disorders
By Linda Hodgdon, M.Ed., CCC-SLP

Paperback Book
Visual Strategies for Improving Communication (Revised)
Practical Supports for Autism Spectrum Disorders
By Linda Hodgdon, M.Ed., CCC-SLP

P.S. Some people don’t know this. You don’t need a Kindle device to read a Kindle book.  You can download a Kindle app from the app store for your computer, tablet or phone.  Mac or PC. It’s f.ree!



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