Visual Teaching Strategies and Autism

Autism refers to a number of neuro-developmental disorders that affect some parts of the central nervous system (i. e. the brain and nervous system), particularly the way that both verbal and non-verbal information is processed. Autism affects how people understand their world and what is happening around them. Autism is seen as a lifelong disability because there is no known cure. However, children and Adult with autism continue to change and grow and many show dramatic improvement in a range of skills throughout their lives.

Core features of autism vary in terms of severity. There is considerable variability in the level of cognitive ability within the autism group, ranging from high-functioning individuals of normal or superior intelligence to those with a severe intellectual disability. The triad of impairments in autism may also be present in a single person quite differently at different ages. Currently, the idea of a spectrum of autism is widely accepted.

This spectrum is referred to in the literature as either Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). Autism affects as many as 19 cases for every 10,000 people in the population. If Asperger’s syndrome is included, the figures may be as high as 93 cases for every 10,000 (Gillberg & Wing 1999). Autism may occur in isolation or in association with other conditions such as epilepsy, intellectual impairment, cerebral palsy and other specific genetic and developmental disorders.

(Dodd, 2005, p. 7). Characteristics of Children with Autism Children with autism consequently have problem related to other people in many social and physical context. Simple assistive technologies such as PECS may be incorporated within teaching and learning programs developed for students with autism, to address difficulties in the area of communication. Remediation in this area may support improvement in the other related social and behavioral domains.

Many children with autism are strong visual learners and so visual teaching and learning strategies such as PECS may support autistic students in all aspects of their school and home lives. Marsden (2002) noted that students with autism often have strong visual skills and consequently they might be expected to respond well to visual teaching methods. Students with autism are also though to benefit form structured discrete Trail Training, in which skills are taught in small steps in a direct and sequenced way, with prompting and reinforcement. (Sigafoos, Green, 2007, p.

186) Importance of parents A good way to think about the important role of parents is to compare your ideal of a parent of a typical child, to a parent of child with autism. The role of a parent of typical child includes many things that a child with parent of the child with autism does too, like selecting a school, learning what special resources a school has, and signing their child up for the school they feel most beneficial. Parents of typically developing children plan extracurricular activities like being on a soccer team and going to a camp for part of the summer.

Parents also try to actualize the potential of their child by helping them with homework so they could better understand what the child is studying, and try to spark a deeper interest or appreciation of certain topics. Parents are also the guardians of the social and moral development of the child, and develop rules, set limits, and give rewards for fine accomplishments. Parents of children with autism essentially do all these things too. (Siegel, 2003, p. 444) Visual Strategies

Visual strategies refer to ways of using visual stimuli such as photos, drawings, and so on, to enhance the communication process. A primary purpose for using visual strategies is to support understanding. Visual strategies provide information in a form that many students can understand more easily than auditory information. Other terms used include visual tools, visual cues or visually mediated communication. Most students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and many others with communication or behavior challenges demonstrate strength in visual learning compared to their auditory abilities.

That means they understand what they see, better than what they hear. Yet we tend to communicate with them primarily by talking. (Hodgdon, 1995) Using visual strategies to support communication capitalizes on the ability of a person to gain information from the sense of sight. From photographs, line drawings, computer clip art, pictures from catalogs or magazines, food labels, signs, logos, objects, and written language can be used as visual tool to support communication. Video is another visual medium that is proving effective.

One goal when using visual strategies is to teach student to identify, understand and respond appropriately to the visual cues and information that already exist in environment. Another goal is to identify their specific communication needs and challenges as a basis for creating visual tools that give the specific information they need to understand. Visual tools are easy to use. We can become more effective communicators if we use simple language and support our communication by showing the student something visual to help him understand what we are saying.

Some visual tools are hung on the wall or refrigerator or placed in communication books so the student can easily access them when he needs them. Video as a teaching medium is a comparatively new tool. It is becoming useful for teaching appropriate social and communication behavior. The value of video is that it captures the movement of the social world. It has been used successfully for teaching a variety of skills including imaginative play, correct behavior, and perspective taking. Students Benefit from Visual Strategies

Many of the difficulties these students encounter, as they attempt to follow life routines, handle change and transition, demonstrate appropriate behavior, or participate in social opportunities are directly relates to their communication challenges. Speech is transient. Consider that an auditory message may disappear before a student has focused his attention enough to receive it. These children do not easily understand what is happening around them, what is changing, or what the rules are. The result can be frustration, anxiety, tantrums, and more.

In contrast, most of these students demonstrate a preference for visual information. Visual supports are helpful because the visual message stays long enough for the student to establish attention and receive information. Even students without autism are suggested to use visual means of learning for better remembrance. Using visual strategies to support understanding can significantly affect the ability of a student to communicate more successfully, develop appropriate social skills, regulate behavior in various environments, and participate more independently.(Smith, Myles, 2007, p. 400-402)


Dodd, Susan. Understanding Autism. Elsevier Australia. 2005 p. 6 Sigafoos, Jeff. Vanessa Green. Technology and Teaching. Nova Publishers, 2007. p. 186 Smith, Brenda. Myles, Smith, Brenda: Autism Spectrum Disorder A Handbook for Parents and Professionals. 2007. 400-402. Siegel, Bryna. Helping children with autism learn. Oxford University Press: US, 2003. p. 444

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