Our kids went back to school this month and likely many families are still struggling with the transition. It often seems that as the newness wears off, the getting-down-to-business-struggles begin.
Autistic students have a particularly challenging time because their neurology does not permit them to automatically organize the world around them. Teachers and parents can support a child with autism to become more organized. For many it is an essential accommodation so they can be in a place to learn.
Autistic students are often visual learners. This means that even though they may be verbal, as stress increases comprehension of spoken words decreases. A visual thinking student is often unable to hold on to verbal directions, much less engage with them!
Visuals are very important to these students. There are numerous visuals and indeed, you are only limited by your own imagination when it comes to creating and using visuals. Anything from a sticky note to a laminated picture schedule with moveable parts can be a visual. Remember, a visual simply holds information still over time.
A visual needs to be visible to the student needing it. This is stating the obvious, but I have been called in to see many students who started having behavior issues in the classroom AFTER their visuals had been removed from their sight. Usually removal of visuals happens because it appears the student is no longer paying attention to their visuals. An easy way to understand this is to think of your own wall calendar where next summer’s family reunion, your vacation, family birthdays and anniversaries, children’s school days off, etc. are posted. Likely you do not look at it every day. How helpful would it be if somebody removed this visual because you were not using it each day? Children who use visuals to organize themselves need to be able to see their visuals (Endow, 2013).
Visual Tools to Support Organization
A Visual Schedule shows what happens when across the day (Endow, 2011, pg. 65-69). Teachers usually have a schedule posted in their classrooms. A personalized version of this can be used for students by adding in the items a particular child needs made salient such as bathroom break, OT, speech, etc.
Many children are assisted in tracking their day by interacting with their schedule, i.e. pulling off the all done item and placing it in an all done pocket. Some children prefer a check off schedule where they can have the day’s schedule on a piece of paper and check off the classes and events, as they are finished (Endow, 2011, pg.74-78).
A Mini Schedule can be used for the student who gets lost during a class period (Endow, 2011, pg. 73). This can happen in a longer class or in a class the student finds difficult or uninteresting. An example of a Mini Schedule for a Language Arts class is a check off list in the order of events
___ Silent Reading
___ Reading Seatwork
___ Spelling Practice with Partner (Mark)
___ Spelling Pretest
___ New Lesson from Teacher
A Visual Timer shows the passing of time (Endow, 2013, pg. 61-64). There are commercial visual timers that can be purchased, but many other things can be used. For example, a sand timer from a board game might be helpful. Also, there are many iPad apps of various sorts of timers that visually count down time. Some make sound and some don’t.
Visual timers are helpful to students with autism because they provide an element of organization the neurology doesn’t automatically provide as it does in typically developing children. It shows when something will be done and thus goes a long way in reducing anxiety.
Video Clips are very helpful in showing students what new things will look like. If your student uses an iPad he likely knows how to take short video clips. If not, you can easily teach him. Taking a video clip of things such as going through the lunch line, walking to the bus, checking out books from the library or anything that seems to pose difficulty can easily be done.
It is important to take the clip from the child’s point of view so you may need to adjust where you hold the iPad so the clip is taken at the child’s eye level. Some children can perform a skill after seeing a video clip one time. Other children need to watch the few second clip on their iPad right before it is time to perform the skill (Endow, 2013).
There are numerous resources and free materials on all of the above listed visuals. You might Google the bolded words to look up what’s available on the web. Don’t forget to click onto Google Images as teachers and parents will often post visuals they have found helpful for their child.
Endow, J. (2013). Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.
Endow, J. (2011). Practical Strategies for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
JUDY ENDOW, MSW