Do We Use What We Know About Pictures?

Let’s talk about autism communication pictures.

I spent some time in my local bookstore recently.  The problem going there is that I can have a hard time leaving. . . .especially without spending lots of $$$.  I have five grandchildren.  You get the idea.  But while there, I made some observations that caused me to think about how we teach.

The bookstore is a favorite shopping spot.  The children’s department is so fun, even for me.  Gorgeous books.   Fun stories.  Beautiful illustrations.  It’s those illustrations that I started to pay more attention to.

So many styles of art

What I realize is that the artwork in those books doesn’t necessarily match what we know about child learning.  Some of that art is entertaining from an adult perspective, but it may not match the learning age of the children the book is targeting.

Here’s what we know

There was some interesting research targeting children in the 18-30 month age range.  The question was what kind of pictures did those children respond to best.  The answer?  The more realistic, the better they responded.

This is what it means

Color photographs get the best responses.  Very realistic colored drawings get the next best response.  Another study showed poor response when young children were given black and white images compared to color photos.

So to summarize

Young children respond best to:

  • Color photos.
  • Realistic colored drawings (note the word realistic).

Young children do not respond as well to:

  • Black & white art
  • Less realistic drawings

Which picture works better for which student?

It’s a simple question to help choose books. Just be aware of how the art in a book matches a student’s ability to understand.

It’s different when students get older

As students mature they are able to understand more variations in art.  Color becomes less important and more abstract pictures can work OK.  But keep in mind that all children do not learn at the same rate.

Books are a great social tool

A common activity for parents and their young children is reading story books together.  Not only is it a fabulous language development activity, but sitting together looking at books is a favorite for developing that social back and forth that becomes conversation.  Picking books with the right kind of art can help this activity be more successful.

Please note

These studies were done with typically developing children, not specifically those with special needs.

So here’s another thought

It’s about our children with special learning needs.  Remember. . . photos are easiest.  Black & white drawings are hardest.  Now look at all the art we use to embellish their learning environments.  Look at the art we use for communication supports.  Does what we use match what we know about these children’s learning strengths?

What’s the rule?

When creating autism communication pictures, there aren’t hard fast rules about what art to use for what age.  But a good rule to use would be this. . .if a student understands and responds to the visual forms we use, that’s great.  If he isn’t responding consistently in the way we want, try an easier form.

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