People on the Autistic Spectrum tend to think in pictures. Some ASD folk report that all verbal input is being created in visual form in their minds, like a movie. Other ASD folk say that they simply see photos, snapshots in their minds. This is why we are advised to provide visual supports for ASD in schools. Visual schedules, visual reminders and visual cues for behaviour etc help reduce anxiety in most individuals with Autism as they like to know the routine, and what order things are going to be happening in. Presenting all learning in a visual way helps the learning process and understanding of concepts in those with ASD.
We used lots of visuals with James from a really young age. Because he couldn’t speak and also didn’t name people until quite late, we took photographs of all our family and friends and put them all into a book for him. We would read it a couple of times every day, like a book. I still take lots of photos of the routine things we do so that we can import them into a visual schedule or social story if we need to. The iPad has been an absolute Godsend in this regard as it makes social stories and schedules a quick and easy process! All ASD individuals should be given one!
Recently, we were going to visit a friend and James hadn’t been to her place before. Being familiar with ASD herself, she sent me a number of pictures of her, her family and her home for us to look at before we arrived. It made an enormous difference to his stress levels as he knew what to expect. Bless my friend a million times over!!!
As James has grown up and we’ve wanted to prepare him for things like my return to work or the birth of Thomas, we would write “Social Stories” for him. Social stories is a term trademarked by Carol Gray, reported to be the creator of this concept. A social story is basically just a picture book which teaches the child about a social situation or behaviour that you wish them to learn or to become familiar with. We still use Social Stories with James a lot. Sometimes it’s just as simple as drawing a few stick pictures in a notebook and explaining as you draw. It’s amazing how effective this can be. I’ve had huge success with other children using social stories to learn how to appropriately say hello, the importance of raising your hand in class, why wearing shoes is important and how to deal with anger. It’s a really useful strategy!
As with everything with my little cherub, you always have to be on your toes. AEIOU prepared a lovely social story for him about going to the toilet when he was being toilet trained. The book contained lots of pictures throughout the ‘toileting’ story including a picture of ‘poo’. We read it a lot, hoping that it might help reduce James’ enormous anxiety about using the toilet. He was so anxious about it but equally so determined to be a ‘big boy’ that he would sit on the toilet with his hands over his ears and rock, whilst telling us “I’m sure I can handle this!” It’s really hard to watch this process as a parent.
Eventually he got the hang of the whole thing which was an awesome achievement. He and his brother were in the bath one night, and James said sorry to me. I asked him what he was sorry for as he hadn’t done anything wrong. He said that he was sorry his poo was broken. This led to more questions and then the realisation that because the picture of the poo in his social story book was represented as one, long poo (sorry for anyone who’s sensitive about this stuff – there’s nowhere I won’t go!!!) and his wasn’t the same, that he had done the wrong thing. How awful is that? If your child was non-verbal, you may never discover this worry. So AEIOU then prepared a lovely visual chart of a variety of poos. He seemed to grasp it. Then as he was sitting on the toilet that night he said, “I think I’ll try and make this poo tonight, Mum!” (pointing to a specific poo picture!) Oh my goodness! It’s exhausting as a parent but imagine how exhausting it must be for them every day? I wish it didn’t have to be so hard for him!
So for any teachers out there, remember that even the highest functioning ASD child you have thinks visually and will require visual supports to reduce stress and to help them learn and remember concepts. Get an iPad and check out all the wonderful apps that make this process a breeze!