Many individuals with Autism are visual thinkers. Dr Temple Grandin is an American doctor of animal science, a professor at Colorado State University, a best-selling author, an autistic activist, a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, and an engineer. She is also Autistic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Grandin Dr Grandin has written a book entitled, “Thinking in Pictures” which explains the way she thinks. Dr Grandin says:
“My mind is similar to an Internet search engine that searches for photographs. I use language to narrate the photo-realistic pictures that pop up in my imagination. When I design equipment for the cattle industry, I can test run it in my imagination similar to a virtual reality computer program.” http://www.grandin.com/inc/visual.thinking.mind.autistic.person.html
I’m sure that many of us can relate to the concept of visual thinking as many of us may have a preference for learning in a visual way. For children with Autism, understanding this visual way of thinking is important to teaching all kinds of skills.
When James was under 4, he required lots of routine. We would take pictures of the different steps in the day (eg getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth etc) and create a visual support. Now with iPads there are apps such as ChoiceWorks which make this process so quick and simple. https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/choiceworks/id486210964?mt=8 Even just 5 years ago I had to resort to laminated pictures and Velcro to create visual supports and routines. Using these visual supports reduced his anxiety about many things. We could use the routines to prepare him for changes and it provided support for him when he was unable to talk (James didn’t talk until the age of 4). These days we use visual supports to help him get organised (checklist of things required) and for schedules.
Social Stories are another visual strategy recommended for use in individuals with Autism. Carol Gray coined this term and has written a lot on the subject. http://www.thegraycenter.org/social-stories You can use a social story for any purpose – to teach something new, to address a behaviour, to help establish a routine. Social stories can just be quickly sketched into a book or more formalised with pictures and text. Again, this strategy appeals to visual thinkers.
Using visual schedules for routines, self regulation (wait cards, break cards), flow charts, photographs, and even just sketching stick figures to reinforce a behaviour or concept can be really effective in reducing anxiety and increasing engagement for individuals with autism. If there is a way to present something visually – do it!