Visual strategies are things that we see. We can call them visual tools or visual supports. These terms mean that we are using something visual to help those students understand what we are communicating to them. One really important reason we use visual strategies is to help students understand better.
Most students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD and more) and many others with communication, behavior or social skill challenges understand visual information better than they understand talking and conversation.
They respond better to what they see than they do to what they hear.
Visual strategies help students understand by providing information that they can see. Most of us communicate to these students primarily by talking. Using visual tools to support communication capitalizes on their ability to gain information from the sense of sight.
Who can benefit from visual strategies?
Visual tools have proven to be particularly valuable for children with Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and other Autism Spectrum Disorders. Most students with other special learning needs benefit significantly from using visual supports.
Once we realize the benefits from using visual strategies to support communication, we discover that they can be used successfully in classrooms or at home for almost all students. Visual tools work for preschool age children. They work with adults and everyone in between. Almost everyone can benefit from using visual strategies.
Can you give some examples of visual strategies?
Visual tools can range from low tech to high tech. Low tech visual supports can be things like photographs, line drawings, pictures from catalogs or magazines, food labels, signs, logos, real objects and written language.
High tech visual tools include smart phones, ITouch, IPads, and video.
Visual supports can also include body language and cues in the natural environment such as furniture arrangement.
Some visual tools are those things most of us use regularly such as shopping lists, calendars and cookbooks.
Other visual strategies are specially designed to meet the specific personal needs of an individual.
Why do you use visual tools?
One of the most important reasons to use visual supports is to give students information. Visual tools are used to help a child understand what is going to happen, when something is going to change or what is going to be new or different.
Here’s an example:
I have some very exciting news. I was able to implement the use of visual aids the first night (after Linda Hodgdon’s Visual Strategies Workshop). As you may remember JJ is very attached to his beloved mimi (grandmother). After the conference we stopped by to spend some time with her. After a few hours it was time to go.
This would have been a normal routine with little resistance but this day Mimi had to leave for a meeting at the same time. JJ had a total meltdown because he thought he was leaving with mimi.
By the time we got home (we live next door) he was throwing a full blown tantrum. Usually this is the point when I yell for him to stop right now but instead I wrote on the back of our agenda from the conference “Mimi is gone…but that is OK. Mimi will be back” I got her pic down and read it to JJ several times.
By the fourth time he was done crying!!! He continued to come back to that paper every few hours! My three year old understood!!
Here’s another example:
A few years ago I attended one of your visual strategies conferences. Your presentation was amazing. A few days after attending the conference I was at my wits end with trying to get my son with Asperger’s Syndrome to get his pajamas on to go to bed.
I was frustrated because I was having to “tell” him (yes, I know) over and over again to get them on. This had been going on for a long, long time (years) and it was getting pretty old.
All of a sudden your conference came to mind and I realized the problem was with me. I was being auditory only and that was not how he works. Instead of feeling frustrated, I went and got a 3×5 card and wrote, “Get your pajamas on NOW!” and calmly handed it to him.
I was totally surprised when his eyes bugged out, he got up, and said, “Okay”. He promptly got his pajamas on. After I recovered from total shock at how well that worked, I wrote on the card, “Thank you. I love you” and got a big smile from him.
I wish everyone could go to one of your conferences. I don’t always remember to use visuals, but what a difference it makes when I do!
Our goal is to discover when students are likely to have difficulty or need extra support. For example, handling an unexpected change in the schedule is a time for a potential meltdown. After we identify that potential problem we can give him some information in a visual form to help him understand.
Do you use visual strategies for students who talk?
This is a question that lots of people ask. The answer is YES! When you think about how visual tools help students understand better, you realize it doesn’t matter if they are able to talk or not. It‘s very helpful to use visual strategies to aid understanding for both non-verbal and verbal students.
Are visual strategies just for young children?
No. They are appropriate for individuals of all ages. Many visual tools we use for younger children will look different from the ones we use for older individuals. But adults can benefit from using visual supports just as much as young children. They’ll probably use different supports and use them for different purposes than the ones for young children.
Think about the visual supports you and I use to help organize our own lives. Shopping lists, calendars, cooking recipes. . .the list is long. Our students with communication challenges can benefit from the same tools we use, however, they generally need more visual supports than we do.
Think of it like this. Using visual strategies provides the support that students need to participate more appropriately and independently in their life activities. Our challenge as communication partners is to discover how using visual tools will make a difference for each individual student.
CLICK HERE to learn more about using visual strategies.