Visual strategies for autism can provide simple solutions to sometimes big challenges.
But believe it or not, even though visual strategies offer parents and educators solutions that work, these tools aren't used as much as they could be.
Can you identify with these examples?
Have you ever thought, "That last big meltdown with my autistic student didn’t need to happen."
Or even if it was just a little explosion, it probably could have been avoided.
Did you ever wish for a “do-over" when you encountered a situation you could have handled better?
You’re not alone. We’ve all been there at some time. (And probably more than once.)
Visual tools provide simple solutions
We know that using visual strategies is very effective for communicating with students on the autism spectrum and lots of other students with related learning needs.
One of the biggest challenges for teachers and other communication partners is to actually figure out what tools they need and how to use them effectively.
When preparing a visual tool you have to ask some simple questions.
- What does the student do? Why?
- What does he need to do or want to do?
- What needs to change?
- What information does the student need?
When you have asked yourself some questions, change what pictures you use so that your visual tool helps the student feel like he has some control. That usually changes things.
5 Common Reasons People Have Difficulty Using Visual Strategies
1. The visual tool doesn't really solve the problem
Kevin, a student with autism was having a meltdown and the teacher used a picture that said “Be Quiet.” It didn’t work.
The teacher asked Kevin what the picture "said."
He responded, "Pick your nose."
When you choose a picture to represent something, be sure to check to make sure the student understands what the picture is supposed to communicate.
2. The visual tool is too complicated in some way
There are some people who think you need to use a picture to represent every word in a sentence or every word you say.
I’m not sure of the reasoning behind that, but I think they believe it will lead to better reading skills. I haven’t seen any proof that it works like that. Which one do you think will be easier for a student to recognize and use?
3. Using the wrong pictures
People end up using a lot of pictures that you cannot easily interpret without reading the words. Here’s an example. What does this picture communicate? But more important, what does your student think it communicates?
Just because a picture is in a picture collection or picture program you are using, that doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate choice for that student for that problem.
A simple way to check is to show the picture to the student (without the printed words) and ask “What is this?” or “What does this mean?”
If I'm creating a visual tool to prompt a student to put his shirt on, which picture would be easiest for him to interpret? Or would you make a different choice?
Put your shirt on
A related question. Does this student need a picture of the exact shirt you want him to put on? Or is a generic prompt adequate?
Even though you are testing to see if the student understands the picture without words, the best visual tools also have written words on the pictures.
4. People never get started
This is a personal organization thing. It’s called procrastination. These people aren’t protesting that visual tools won’t work. They just don’t see enough value to make it a priority to get started.
5.They don’t use the visual tools
People who have made the effort to actually create visual tools don’t receive the benefit from their efforts because they don’t use their tools. If you can’t find it when you need it or you just keep talking to the student and don’t bother using the visual tool when you are “managing a situation,” there is no gain for the effort.
It’s important to remember that one of the goals of using visual strategies is to change the communication behavior of you, the communication partner.
Visual strategies really really work
I could tell you lots of reasons why and I can share many stories of how. But what’s most important is making them work for you and your students.
Many people use a few visual supports. But few people use as many visual tools as they could benefit from.
Get started, think things through and then use what you create. You will achieve even greater success.
P.S. I should have written one more reason why people miss the positive experiences they could have with their students. It has to do with not planning ahead enough.
Here’s an example
A holiday comes up. A special event gets put on the calendar. Someone has a birthday. It’s all these kinds of activities that happen that are not part of the normal daily routine.
Even though these special times are supposed to be fun, your students on the autism spectrum may not feel everyone else’s joy. That’s exactly when your students need a little extra visual help to “get through.” They can manage these different or unexpected events, but you usually have to plan ahead for greatest success.
Here’s a webinar to help you to learn some techniques to prepare your students for those special events
Holidays are not just Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Think about Memorial Day and 4th of July. School summer break and vacations to visit Aunt Betty.
To my international readers . . . you have many special days throughout the year special to your community. And that’s the point.
Any time the normal routine is interrupted for a “special event” you need the tips from this webinar.
The strategies in this webinar program will help you help your students achieve success and fun on those special days that occur all around the year.
There are always holidays and vacations coming up. Get ready now to handle those non-routine events with success by using visual strategies for autism.