Often when I chat to families about using visuals with their child they think about photos and visual scheduling to explain what is happening in their child’s day. Also families tend to think that visuals are a tool to help ‘low functioning’ children with autism.
However this is not true…
Let me explain why.
There are three primary learning styles;
Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic (learning through ‘doing’).
Most people have one learning style that is more dominant than the others and prefer to use this when learning new things.
To illustrate this, the following image shows a very simple version of the differences between Auditory and Visual learning.
This picture is not supposed to be saying that Visual learning is in some way better or more powerful than auditory learning, it’s simply showing how different people have different learning styles. The girl on the left likes to read the instructions and say them out aloud in her head, while the boy on the right is a visual learner and prefers to think about an image of what it is he is building.
Research suggests that most children with autism are very good visual learners.
Therefore one of the keys to helping kids with autism learn as quickly and as effectively as possible is using their strong visual learning skills to help. Otherwise we are making learning hard for them which doesn’t help them reach their full potential.
This is why I always recommend that parents and teachers learn as much as they can about all of the different ways that visuals can be used to facilitate learning. The possibilities are endless and exciting!
The reason why I wanted to raise this topic this week is because…
On Tuesday I saw Samantha, a 3 year old girl diagnosed with Aspergers. Her mother explained to me that she has difficulty maintaining conversations with people because she takes a while to process what people are saying to her. As a result, she tries to keep the conversation going by relying on a few repetitive phrases that are not always very appropriate.
So in order to get Samantha using her strong visual learning skills to help her with this, I suggested that her mother draw out the conversation on a piece of paper. For example they might talk about and draw out their trip to the beach or to Grandma’s home etc. You don’t need to be able to draw like Picasso, stick figures will do just fine. 🙂 In fact the simpler the better.
By drawing her conversations and turning them into visual stories, Samantha’s mother would be helping her in the following ways…
- Giving her more time to process what is going on, because drawing things on paper slows down the pace of the conversation.
- Increase Samantha’s comprehension of what is being said because she is a visual learner and she will use the drawings to help understand.
- Help Samantha realise that her thoughts and ideas will add to the picture which will help her generate something relevant
- Improve her concentration span in the conversation because her visual attention is better than her auditory attention.
…and so on and so on
As a result Samantha will be able to have more time to think about and generate her responses rather than just saying anything that comes to mind!
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Drawing things on paper is just one of many visual strategies you can use to help your child.
But no matter which strategy you use you won’t go wrong if you follow these three key steps:
Step 1: Decide on your goal or what you would like to help your child accomplish.
This might be helping them understand what activities they will be doing in their day or explaining why they can’t have another biscuit or understanding some more basic vocabulary.
Step 2: Choose a visual strategy that you think will best help your child achieve this goal
Step 3: Work out how you can implement this strategy consistently throughout your child’s day (for best results)
So there’s a brief insight into how visual learning could be a very effective tool in helping your child learn new skills and understand new or unfamiliar situations.
If you’ve got any questions about Visual learning or have had any great experiences using visual learning techniques with your child (or those you treat) please share them by leaving your comments in the box below.
To learn more about all of the different types of visual strategies that you can use with your child and how to implement them, please check out the Visuals DVD from my Autism Essentials Training Program. There is over two hours of great ideas for you to learn and use with your child.
Until next week.
Director | Head Speech Pathologist
PS: Whilst Visual learning is most dominant in children with Autism, we also need to help them develop their Auditory and Kinesthetic learning skills for a more effective, balanced approach. So once you’ve got the hang of using visual learning strategies you may like to take a look at DVD 6 (Learn Part 1) for Auditory learning, and DVD 8 (Behave) for more on Kinesthetic learning.